“Before I even get out of bed in the morning, I remember that hundreds of thousands of people are ill with the novel coronavirus. I realize that I need to spend the day at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, just like yesterday and just like every day for the unforeseeable future. How can I maintain my mental health?”
This is a statement and question that Amy Shuman, a Licensed and Independent Clinical Social Worker (LISCW) and Master ART Practitioner and Trainer, hears frequently from clients and friends. Confronted with an unprecedented crisis, many people feel overwhelmed by anxiety, sadness, and fear. The problem is compounded by the necessary practice of social distancing. Many people are grappling with these big emotions while simultaneously feeling isolated and lonely.
Shuman recommends starting by structuring your time. She states, “One thing that can really make a huge difference is to create a schedule for your day. Whether you are elderly, taking care of little kids, or are living alone, the world is not going to feel so big and scary when you have a to-do list.” She continues by suggesting that if you find yourself with extra free time, this can be a great opportunity to tackle a project you have long put off. In contrast, if you find yourself especially busy, she points out that it is important to schedule time for relaxation and self-care.
When feelings of anxiety arise, Shuman suggests using deep breathing, meditation, or mindfulness. If you are able to go outside, try to spend time in nature every day, and mentions that exercise is also excellent for managing anxiety. She states, “Challenge yourself to stay present in the moment. Tune into your senses and observe what you are seeing or hearing. That helps quiet the mind and calm anxiety and depression.”
Shuman mentions that just because we are maintaining physical distance from others does not mean we need to practice emotional distance. She believes that connecting with others is more important than ever and suggests that calling, texting, or sending letters to relatives, friends, and neighbors can be very helpful. Another great option is to set-up virtual gatherings via videoconferencing.
Checking in on neighbors, especially people who are elderly or have health problems, is also helpful in staying connected. Shuman suggests to ask yourself, “Is there anything I could do to help them?” “Helping other people boosts your mental health,” says Shuman. Look for volunteer opportunities near you. Could you sew masks for healthcare workers? Read stories to children through video chat? Bring donations to a food bank?
Shuman advises to remember to follow regular guidelines for health. Fill up on vegetables, fruit, and lean proteins, and to try to avoid eating junk food as a way of coping with stress. It is also important to avoid turning to alcohol during this stressful time. Alcohol is a depressant, and additionally, excessive drinking can suppress the immune system.
She also suggests keeping a gratitude journal and starting the day by writing five things you are thankful for. They can be small things, such as the light falling on the carpet or the budding tree outside your window.
Shuman ends by saying, “Try to shift from worrying about the future to just noticing the present moment. That’s the way the yogis have been maintaining calm for thousands of years.”
ART International Training and Research Inc., is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing access to Accelerated Resolution Therapy® (ART) for individuals suffering from trauma and other mental health diagnosis through innovative research and clinician training and education. For additional information about the therapy or to locate a therapist near you, please contact or visit ART International.