Six Ways to Protect Your Mental Health During the COVID-19 Crisis

You might feel a lot of stress and anxiety right now as more universities move to an online model in the wake of the recent COVID-19 outbreak. This is a normal reaction to an unusual situation. As human beings we like certainty and are hard-wired to want to know what is happening and when something is a potential threat to us. When we don’t feel safe or secure, our fight-or-flight systems become activated and we can feel elevated levels of fear, stress and worry.

Currently, you might feel more on edge than usual, or you may feel helpless, angry, tense, sad or frustrated. You might notice tingling in your hands and tightness in your chest when you breathe. You might observe tension in your jaw and more frequent headaches. You might experience more difficulty relaxing and falling asleep at night. And for those of us who are already living and coping with our brain health, we might notice increased levels of depression or the onset of fatigue.

These psychological and physiological responses could be caused by the perceived loss of control we are all feeling over the current situation. For that reason, it’s important to remember that we are not helpless, despite what the media might be portraying. We have the ability to control how we respond and how we choose to perceive the situation.

What You Can Do:

If you are struggling, here are six easy things you can do to take care of your mental health in the face of uncertainty and fear:

  1. Control what you can control.

    Everything else is just outside noise for your brain. Wash your hands. Eat healthy foods. Get plenty of sleep. Take your vitamin and mineral supplements. Limit your alcohol consumption. All of these things will help keep your immune system strong.

  2. Limit your media consumption.

    There are a lot of different media outlets sending a lot of different messages. Focus on the facts and whatever safety action steps are provided that you can utilize to be safe. Everything else is just fluff to create fear.

  3. Create a safe and relaxing environment.

    Your definition of relaxing will be different from your peers, so be sure to honor what works best for you. This could be watching a comedy to bring more laughter to your life. It could be lighting candles and playing music. If it feels good for you, and isn’t destructive to yourself or others, do it.

  4. Try to get outside as much as possible.

    Follow all safety and health protocol, which might include avoiding big crowds. However, if you can, spend some time outside soaking up the sun and breathing in fresh air. Movement and exercise are great for stress relief and mood regulation.

  5. Utilize mindfulness techniques to stay present.

    You might find yourself constantly worrying about how things will be in the future. A simple and effective way to combat this is through mindfulness. Mindfulness is awareness that occurs through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. Meditation is a precise technique used for resting the mind’s attention on the breath and training in a state of awareness. There are a multitude of options to find guided meditation like YouTube or the Headspace app.

  6. Reach out to your support system and see how people are doing.

    Touch base with the people you love and trust, and let them know how you are feeling. If you are stressed, anxious or overwhelmed with your mental health, let them know. You don’t have to bottle up or hide what you are experiencing. If you are struggling with your mental health, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional for assistance.

You are not alone in this, and help is always available. You can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. You can also reach out to me via email at zwesterb@zachwesterbeck.com or DM on IG @zach_westerbeck. I am Mental Health First Aid certified and would be happy to talk through how you are feeling and direct you to professional help if that’s what you decide you need.

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