Taking care of your mental health is an important part of overall health, even in the best of circumstances. During times of high stress, the decline of overall mental health can occur and leave a person feeling both mentally and physically ill. The rise of mental health conditions in the last 20 years has been significant, especially in young adults and adolescents. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 25% of people will suffer from some form of mental disorder during their lifetime.
Due to the state of the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health is at the top of the health priority list because of the added anxiety and worry. Many people will be plagued with worry over the health of themselves and their loved ones, unemployment and job loss, and routine changes that could lead to worsening depression or anxiety. Taking care of yourself during a global pandemic may pose its own difficulties, but there are ways to stay on top of things so your mental health doesn’t suffer.
Ways to protect your mental health during COVID-19
There are ways you can ensure that your mental health is at its best when dealing with the onset of stress caused by the current goings-on. If you were suffering from depression or anxiety prior to the onset of the pandemic, it is even more important to stay on top of things.
The following are tips and helpful ways to help you manage mental illness symptoms or avoid the onset of new ones while the pandemic and lockdown are still in effect.
1. Focusing on things you can control
Although there is no way to completely avoid the virus or the risks that come with contracting it, taking extra precautions can go a long way when managing your mental health. Following guidelines such as maintaining social distancing, wearing a mask in public areas or when around large groups of people, washing your hands, and disinfecting surfaces that are touched most often can all go a long way in the battle against worsening symptoms of depression or anxiety.
2. Avoid binging whenever possible
Any form of binging is likely to worsen mental health symptoms – including binging the news. In today’s technologically advanced world, avoiding the current headlines can be tough. When things are constantly shared on social media sites and reports of updates on the virus are continuously being thrown at you, taking little breaks from being exposed to the information can be a great help. Staying off social media for the majority of the day and watching or reading something other than news can help curb extensive worry that may lead to the worsening of mental illness symptoms.
Other things like substance abuse and binge-drinking, binging too many television shows on a streaming service, or eating junk food excessively can all be harmful in the fight towards good mental health.
3. Exercise and eat right
Many studies have shown that diet and exercise can impact recovery from mental illness in a significant way. Eating a diet rich in wholefoods, fruits and vegetables, while avoiding heavily processed and ‘junk’ foods, can lead to the body being healthy, which helps encourage a healthy mind. Due to the mind-gut connection, giving your body the nutrients it needs will greatly help in the management of symptoms.
Exercise has also been shown to improve both depression and anxiety for a few reasons. Exercise increases body temperature all over, including the brain stem. When the temperature of that region of the brain is heightened, it relieves tension, thus reducing symptoms of anxiety. Exercise can also lead the production and release of endorphins, the chemical that causes feelings of happiness. It can also help neurotransmission throughout the brain, which is generally negatively affected by the imbalance of chemicals caused by depression.
Another great way exercise can help with depression and anxiety during lockdown is by distracting you from what’s going on. It’s a great way to pass time and can help you focus on one task at a time. You can give yourself plenty of exercise by (safely) getting out into nature for walks or hikes, investing in home workout plans, and going for socially distanced walks around your neighborhood. The exercise doesn’t have to be extensive, but should be done for at least an hour a day.
4. Focus on sleep and relaxation
Getting a solid night’s sleep is important all the time, but it’s especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Keeping the same sleeping schedule regardless of whether or not you need to get up for work in the morning is the best bet in ensuring you get the right amount of restful sleep required for mental health and alertness throughout the day.
Investing in a good meditation program can help with relaxation, and studies have shown that it can also encourage more restful sleep. Other ways to relax include reading a good book, watching your favorite television program (without going overboard on hours watched), or rediscovering hobbies that you wouldn’t otherwise have time for. Yoga can also be a great way to relax, and many free yoga classes can be found online.
5. Stay connected
Being on lockdown can be hard, especially for people who live alone. This disconnection can cause feelings of isolation or loneliness that wouldn’t occur if life were “normal”. To stay connected with friends and family, having set days for phone calls or video chats could be a great help. Although it’s not the same as direct human contact, staying connected with loved ones is a surefire way to feel less lonely during the COVID-19 lockdown.
6. Seek help if it becomes too much
If the lockdown becomes too much, staying in contact with your doctor can help alleviate symptoms. If the symptoms you feel worsen and you can’t get in touch with your doctor, there are many helplines and resources that you can access for help.