Support your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

by Dr. Elspeth Ritchie, MD, Chair, Psychiatry
April 6, 2020

When an unfamiliar disease strikes, it can cause tremendous fear and anxiety. We’ve seen it before—during the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic and, in more recent times, with HIV, SARS and the anthrax scare after 9/11.

Fear and anxiety breed uncertainty, and that uncertainty tends to be most intense in the earliest phase of any crisis. As COVID-19 spreads across the country, we see the same concerns—fear of infection and of spreading the disease, and the stress of not knowing if you’ve been exposed.

The good news: we are resilient, we will prevail. This storm will pass, as we are already witnessing in the nations that were affected first. Until then, apply these tips, tools and techniques to reduce anxiety and help you and your loved ones weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

Breathe. Literally.

Breathe deeply, 10 times, through the nose.

I recommend practicing this daily, both on a routine basis and then whenever anxiety levels begin to rise. Deep breathing can calm you and give your brain time to pause, reset and slow down.

Short-Term Focus, Long-Term Plan

Anxiety often results when you feel you’re losing control. When events are bigger than us and changing rapidly, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless.

Rather than dwell on all the things you cannot control, think about the things you can. What can you do, right now? Focusing on what you will do today, or even over the next few hours, can help you regain a sense of control and prevent the big picture from looming even larger. Some of those answers are clearly laid out: maintain social distance, limit travel, wash your hands often—all guidelines we have been following.

Short-term planning is especially important when supervising children who are out of school. Planning the day, doing what and when, is a healthy focus. But understand that the schedule may get knocked off-track, so flexibility is key as well.

Long-term planning is OK as long as we don’t obsess over an unpredictable future. Take care of your health. If you are on prescription medications, be sure you have enough on hand. If you have an urgent medical need, reach out to your provider. MedStar Health is doing what needs to be done to maintain business as usual while assuring preparedness to manage any virus situations that may arise. Communication is key. Call or use MedStar eVisit, if you need it.

Do More of What Makes You Happy

Though quite out of the ordinary, today’s situation is not without precedent. People have coped in similar circumstances.

Most of us are lucky to have the basics—food, power and shelter. Look at the current scenario as an opportunity. What hobbies or other forms of personal development can you pursue, now that you have more time?

  • Spring is blossoming and the weather is warming up. Many will find gardening and yard work calming and productive
  • Get outside when the weather is good, as long as you maintain social distance
  • Get the guitar out of the closet, or dust off the piano. I grew up singing (poorly) and I find myself singing a lot more. It makes me feel good. I still sing poorly but I do it anyway
  • Spend quality time with your pets
  • Writing, art, cooking—devote time to anything creative that you enjoy

Distance, Not Isolation

Remember that distancing doesn’t mean isolation. We are going through this with technology that makes staying connected easier than ever.

Stay in touch with friends and loved ones, by phone, email and social media—especially those with more restrictive limits, like the elderly in nursing homes.

Occasionally Disconnect From TV and Social Media

The illness is dominating the news cycle and it’s difficult to escape. It’s a good idea to limit news and social media. In the evenings, after answering COVID-19 emails for 30 minutes, I spend 30 minutes reading. Then I go to bed early. Turning off the barrage of information can be good for your mental health.

Caring for others is an excellent way to care for yourself during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more via @MedStarHealth.

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Put Others First

No one individual alone can solve a crisis. But each of us can take action that benefits those around us. This powerful tool can actually improve your own outlook. Caring about others is a very effective way to care for yourself. Here are some examples:

  • Help the kids with schoolwork
  • Check—from a distance—on elderly neighbors and look for ways to help them cope
  • Reach out to family at a distance and any others at higher medical risk
  • Take a moment to contact anyone in your circle who may feel lonely or isolated

Nobody Has All the Answers

As the COVID-19 situation evolves, it is OK to feel anxious and not have all the answers. Do what you can, right now.

We are all leaders. So we must act like leaders, with a mission and a sense of purpose. That will empower you and those around you to stay calm and focused.

Category: Living Well     Tags: coronaviruscovid-19mental healthvideo chatWellness