• Dr. Ghilain

Coronavirus: Ways to Promote Mental Health in Anxiety-Inducing Times

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

There is a lot of uncertainty about what to expect in the coming days and months regarding the spread of the coronavirus. With large-scale events being canceled and Broadway in NYC "going dark," many are becoming anxious about what it all means and how it will impact themselves and their loved ones. In today's blog, Dr. Ghilain provides information about maintaining one's mental health and coping with the uncertainty in these ever-changing times.

Here are a few ways you can foster your own wellbeing in the days and months ahead:

- Maintain as much of a routine as possible. While travel restrictions and working from home are disrupting many peoples' routines, keep those parts of the routine constant when it is possible. Continue to get up everyday around the same time, engage in your typical morning routine and get dressed in comfortable clothing. Remember that often what we wear can impact our mood. Set up a workstation that promotes productivity at home. Work for your typical business hours, then try to do some other activities you enjoy to return to your normal life.

- Avoid excessive exposure to media coverage of COVID-19. It is hard not to want to glue yourself to the television or social media, but it is important to take these breaks. Perhaps set a particular time of day (e.g., "I'll spend 15 minutes reviewing the latest articles in the morning each day.") and be sure to choose your sources carefully. Getting facts from reputable sources can reduce panic and hysteria dredged up by popular media.

- Take care of your body. This includes maintaining a healthy sleep/wake schedule, seeking out exercise, stay hydrated and choosing nourishing, well-balanced meals. As always, keeping drug or alcohol use to a minimum is best.

- Find time to unwind. "Going green" and getting outside is nature's most powerful medicine. When you feel yourself tensing up, take deep breaths, stretch, take a short walk or meditate. There are many apps (e.g., Insight Timer, Calm) that provide free guided meditations or progressive muscle relaxation options.

- Connect with others. While "social distancing" is our new reality and an essential component of slowing the spread of this disease, technology provides us wonderful ways to get connected. Reach out to friends on the phone. Face-Time, Zoom, or Skype family members. Enjoy time with those you love in whatever ways are possible, and don't forget to set up these same opportunities for children!

- Remind yourself that strong feelings will fade. While it feels like the anxiety, fear and uncertainty will never subside, we know for a fact that it will.

- Share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family member. While you may think you are being "strong" on the outside, often our nonverbal cues are more telling. It is okay to share that you are upset by the situation or worried about loved ones. Sometimes talking to a friend or confidant helps to calm worries and keep things in perspective.

- Distract yourself with positive activities. When all else fails, distraction can help your mind calm down and take a "break" from the constant worrying. Watch a funny movie, read a good book, or play a game with family members. As we know, laughter is the best medicine when we are feeling worried or down.

- Control the "control-ables." Fear and uncertainty can run rampant when we feel out of control. Find small opportunities to regain feelings of control, such as organizing a closet or pantry, switching over a closet from winter to summer clothing, or finally painting that room you've been putting off. Enjoy and sit with the feelings of accomplishment when the task or project is complete.

- Keep reasonable expectations and practice radical self-acceptance. Many of us are balancing multiple responsibilities- from setting up home offices, to educating our children, to cooking multiple meals and snacks per day, to sanitizing every touchable surface of our homes. All of this is taxing, and is further exacerbated by our heightened emotional state. Radical acceptance means fully accepting the way things are right now- without blame, shame, question, or protest. We are all doing our best in a very tough situation.

- Maintain a sense of hope, be positive in your thinking, and look out for "the helpers." Time after time we have seen human beings come together in times of crisis. I believe we will achieve success by working together to combat this virus and supporting each other along the way. Look for those who are going out of their way to help others, and allow it to bring hope in times of fear. That said, one cannot pour from an empty cup, so take care of yourself so you are better able to help others!

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