Mental Health in the Age of COVID-19: Tips for Self-Care

March 16, 2020

 

 

 

 

COVID-19 is constantly making the news everywhere we look. And we’ve all heard the advice from the CDC. Wash your hands for 20 seconds, don’t touch your face, avoid contact with people who are sick. The list goes on. But what about our mental health?

 

With schools closing and organizations cancelling events, emotions are running high. These kinds of drastic changes and high levels of uncertainty can evoke feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, and concern. So, what can we do to maintain our mental health? And how can we help our kids cope with anxiety in the age of COVID-19?

 

If we want to help our kids, we first have to help ourselves. Think of oxygen masks on an airplane. When the masks come down, we’ve all been instructed time and time again to put our own mask on first before assisting others. Emotions are no different. Research shows that our own internal states can impact the emotions of others. And it turns out that kids are experts at reading body language. So, even when we’re trying to hide our anxiety about COVID-19 or our fear for loves ones, kids are picking up on all the nonverbals we don’t even realize we’re communicating. And they internalize those observations about our emotions, often becoming anxious and fearful themselves.

 

But, there’s good news! There are many small things we can do to support our mental health, and all of them can be done while still practicing social distancing.

 

  • Limit unnecessary news consumption. It’s good to know what’s happening in the world but constant exposure to the endless stream of breaking news headlines can lead to unnecessary levels of anxiety and stress. Turn off the news for a bit. Try re-watching your favorite sitcom on Netflix or start that audio book you’ve been wanting to listen to. Even try disengaging from social media for a while. It’s important to stay informed, but too much exposure has serious negative consequences for our mental health. Instead, spend some time engaging in an activity that will boost your mood.

 

  • Engage in activities you love. Play isn’t just for kids. Research shows that engaging in fun, playful activities can help reduce our levels of stress and contribute to overall well-being. And, it turns out, there are many ways for adults to play. Read a book, watch a movie, play a game, create some art, cook a meal, or work on that model train set. Just pick an activity you love and do it. Or maybe even try out something new. 

 

  • Connect with family and friends. We may be living in the age of COVID-19 where we’re trying to practice social distancing and limit exposure to large crowds, but we also live in an age of technology. It’s easier than ever to stay in touch with loved ones. So, if you can’t meet up with your friends and family in person, try skyping or calling them on the phone. Finding ways to connect to others helps to lower anxiety and improve mental health.

 

  • Foster positive thinking. Positive thinking is closely tied to effective stress management and psychological well-being. Focusing on the positive doesn’t remove the difficulties we’re facing or mean that we can’t acknowledge challenges. But it does help us remember that there is a whole other side to the story. There are many ways to train yourself to focus on positive aspects of a situation. Try playing what we at Playmore & Prosper like to call the Grateful Glad Game (finding the good in a bad situation). Yes, I have to practice social distancing and I can’t go to all the places I like. But staying home means I get to spend more time with family. It means that I can finally tackle all those projects on my to-do list. It means that I have more time to engage in fun activities I love. And if you’re an introvert, it’s certainly an excuse to not go out as much. Another strategy is to engage in positive self-talk. Instead of telling yourself, “This is too difficult, I can’t do it,” say to yourself, “This may be difficult, but I can get through it.” Say it out loud and believe it. And if you don’t believe it, keep saying it until you do. Bonus points for saying it with your hands on your hips like Wonder Woman.

 

  • Exercise. We all know about the benefits of exercise. But exercise isn’t just good for our physical health, it’s good for our mental health as well. With social distancing on the rise, maybe heading to your local gym where hundreds of people have touched the equipment isn’t high on your list of priorities. But there are plenty of other ways to squeeze in a workout. Try taking a walk around your neighborhood or head over to a regional park. If outdoors isn’t your style, find a YouTube workout video or download a workout app. Maybe even two. Get creative with it.

 

  • Practice relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques such as slow breathing or meditation can help us cope with stress by calming down our nervous system. And less stress helps our immune systems work better. Try a simple breathing exercise. Breathe in for five seconds and then out for five seconds. Repeat five times. If meditation or breathing exercises aren’t for you, find some other way to practice relaxation techniques. Try yoga or progressive muscle relaxation. The internet is full of ideas

 

With emotions running high, it’s important to remember to take care of our mental health. Taking just a few minutes out of your day to implement these tips can go a long way. And once you do, you’ll be in a better place to help your kids cope with the anxiety and stress of COVID-19. A little self-care goes a long way. Try checking out these other resources on how to take care of your mental health in the age of COVID-19.

 

Other Resources:

References

American Psychological Association (2017). APA stress in AmericaTM Survey: US at ‘lowest point we can remember;’ future of nation most commonly reported sources of stress. American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/11/lowest-point

 

American Psychological Association (2006). Stress weakens the immune system. American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/research/action/immune

 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): How to protect yourself. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,         https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/prevention.html

 

Harvard Health Publishing (2018). Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress  response. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.

https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response

 

Harvard Health Publishing (2018). Six relaxation techniques to reduce stress: Practicing even a few minutes per day can provide a reserve of inner calm. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/six-relaxation-techniques-to-reduce-stress

 

Heid, M. (2018). You asked: Is it bad for you to read the news constantly? TIME,                                https://time.com/5125894/is-reading-news-bad-for-you/

 

House, J.S., Landis, K. R., & Umberson, D. (1988). Social relationships and health. Science, 29,

540-545. DOI: 10.1126/science.3399889

 

Johnston, W. M., & Davey, G. C. L. (1997). The psychological impact of negative TV news bulletins:  The catastrophizing of personal worries. British Journal of Psychology, 88, 81-95.

 

Magnuson, C. D., & Barnett, L. A. (2012). The playful advantage: How playfulness enhances coping with stress. Leisure Sciences, 35, 129-144. https://doi.org/10.1080/01490400.2013.761905

 

Mayo Clinic Staff (2020). Positive Thinking: Stop negative self-talk to reduce stress. Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950

 

Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for mental health. The Primary Care

Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 8(2), 106. doi: 10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a

 

Siegel, D., & Payne Bryson, T. (2012). The whole-brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind. Bantam Books.

 

Wallace, J. (2017). Why it’s good for grown-ups to go play. The Washington Post,                              https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/why-its-good-for-grown-ups-to-go-play/2017/05/19/99810292-fd1f-11e6-8ebe-6e0dbe4f2bca_story.html

 

 

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Playmore & Prosper is a collaborative community of health and wellness professionals who provide a unique, evidence-based, experiential approach to counseling and wellness services for kids and families. Our mission is to invite people into personal growth experiences through activity and the expressive arts. 

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