There is a lot of COVID-19 news that’s probably making you anxious or afraid. Coronavirus is significantly changing our lives. However, UnityPoint Health Psychiatrist Martin Kron, MD, encourages everyone to try to think of our current situation as a glass half-full.
First, Remember – COVID-19 is Temporary
“The most important thing for everyone to remember is this is a temporary situation,” Dr. Kron says. “When people start to feel overwhelmed, they should remind themselves of that fact. Things will get back to normal at some point. This will pass.”
He admits it’s hard to switch your mindset and easy to feel fear, stress and anxiety. Here’s how those terms are defined.
- Fear. It’s a feeling you feel in response to a real threat.
- Stress. Stress is the physical changes in your body when you are fearful or anxious (the “fight or flight” response).
- Anxiety. It’s a feeling you feel in response to a possible threat that may or not happen.
“It’s not good for you to constantly feel anxious, fearful or stressed,” Dr. Kron says. “Signs your mental health is slipping include changes in sleeping patterns, poor concentration or obsessive thoughts over COVID-19. It could also include periods of panic with a racing heart or shortness of breath. GI issues with no physical cause for changes might also be a sign you aren’t coping well.”
Other symptoms might include:
- Expressing fear and uncertainty about the future
- Withdrawal, expressing a sense of hopelessness or helplessness
- Frustration, irritability
- Headaches, body aches
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or having difficulty coping, please contact your doctor to get help. You can also try connecting to a mental health professional on UnityPoint Virtual Care. Dr. Kron warns for people who may have an underlying mental illness, or have occasional episodes of depression or anxiety, a stressor like COVID-19 could push them into an official mental health diagnosis.
Second, Keep Your Mind Busy
Dr. Kron says perhaps now is the time to tackle the to-do list you’ve been putting off – like a DIY project. A few other ideas – grab a book you’ve wanted to read, pursue a new hobby or write letters to family and friends.
“These things help us because they give us a mental health break from what’s happening in the world around us. They’ll put our mind elsewhere while we are in our homes, which is helpful. If you can, reframe your thoughts to seeing this extra time as a gift,” Dr. Kron says.
Third, Do Your Best to Keep a Schedule
To keep your mental health in check, consider keeping a good schedule while at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Keep a consistent wake-up time, take time to eat a healthy lunch and schedule a pause for exercise. Schedules are particularly helpful if you have children at home.
“Make sure to include to prioritize self-care and exercise into your routine. There are a lot of resources on YouTube. Several apps are offering free trials. Or, simply get outside by yourself, or with you family, to go for a walk or run. Social isolation can trigger feelings of depression. Exercise is proven to help combat those feelings,” Dr. Kron says.
Finally, Stay Connected – Digitally
Make sure you’re using technology to help you, not hurt you. Spending too much time online or on smartphones during this pandemic might make you feel more anxious.
“If being up-to-date on the coronavirus isn’t required for your job, make a conscious effort to limit your information intake to just two or three times a day. Try turning off notifications from news outlets and avoid scrolling through social media feeds if it makes you feel uneasy,” Dr. Kron says.
Instead, focus on using the apps and programs that help you stay connected to other people. iPhones have Facetime and Droids have Google Duo. Here are a few others you can try.
“Try setting up online dinner parties where everyone connects but eats in their own homes, or schedule virtual playdates to allow the kids to keep in touch. Get creative to stay connected,” Dr. Kron says.