When we are faced with a crisis of any kind, fear and anxiety are inevitable. These are normal and natural responses to challenging situations that are infused with danger and uncertainty.
It’s so easy to get lost in worrying and obsessing about all kinds of things that are out of our control right now, like what might happen in the future and how the virus might affect us, our loved ones, community, country, and the world. While it’s completely natural for us to get lost in such worries, it’s not useful or helpful. The more we focus on what’s not in our control, the more hopeless or anxious we might feel.
Mental health is not something somebody else struggles with. It is something we all struggle with at some point in our lives—and during this pandemic, the number of people experiencing mental health issues and distress has understandably risen.
Stress, worry, and anxiety can be very crippling things to struggle with regularly—and even more so during the challenges created by a pandemic. This can make it hard to focus our minds and bodies away from worry, but there are some practical ways that you can try to manage your mental health.
In this article, I will cover mental health tips on coping with the pandemic.
1. Focus on What You Can Control
To start with one of the most useful things anyone can do in any type of crisis—Covid-related or otherwise—is to focus on what’s in your control. We can’t control what happens in the future. We can’t control the virus itself, the world economy, or how our governments manage the situation. But we can control what we do—here and now, and that really matters because what we do—here and now—can make a huge difference to us and those around us.
Focusing on what we can control will help us maintain our well-being during periods of self-isolation, quarantine, or lockdown.
2. Deal With Negative Thoughts and Feelings
My second mental health tip is to notice and acknowledge the uncertainty within a thought/feeling as it comes to your mind, pause, and breathe. Tell yourself that this is just anxiety talking—it is just a thought, and thoughts are not statements of fact. You don’t need to believe everything you think.
This thought/feeling will pass, and you don’t have to respond to it or do anything about it. You can try to imagine the thought/feeling floating away in a bubble or cloud.
3. Mindful Relaxation
Mindfulness is about taking a non-judgmental awareness of the present moment, including your thoughts, feelings, bodily state, and sensation while encouraging openness, curiosity, and acceptance.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness. Here is one very simple method you can try:
Explore and connect with the present moment. Notice your breathing, count your breath slowly, and the sensations of breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to count up to 20 slow deep breaths. The goal is to calm the mind by using the five senses to focus on the environment instead of troubling thoughts.
The key to embodying mindfulness is to turn into a keen observer. Using all five of your senses, look around and notice what you see, what you hear, what you can touch, what smells you notice—become fully absorbed in the experience of your senses. You can also set a timer for a few minutes, close your eyes, and work through trying to do this exercise using all your senses by visualizing a place you have visited, like a favorite holiday.
4. Dealing With Anxiety
Anxiety and stress present a threat to us and at the same time, they make us underestimate our ability to cope with the stress of that threat. Of course, it can be extremely difficult to envision coping during a pandemic, but you have to remember that you are coping and that you will cope.
Here’s one way you can challenge threat and connect with your ability to cope: visualize coping. Start by getting into a comfortable position. Take some deep breaths in through your nose for a slow count of 5, holding your breath for a few counts, before breathing out slowly through your mouth. Repeat this a few times.
Then, recall a situation that you dealt with that was stressful or difficult for you, think about what it was, how you felt at the time, the kinds of things you might have told yourself, and whether you’d cope or not. Then, recount in as much detail as you can what you did to cope with and manage that problem, how it turned out, and how you then felt.
Pay important attention to how you might have predicted a catastrophe at the time—and how it didn’t end up being as bad as you thought it would be.
5. Take Care of Your Emotions
Another important mental health tip is to take care of your emotions. It’s impossible to have a life without some uncomfortable feelings. Negative emotions are a normal and helpful part of life. No emotion is without purpose, and they are a source of information for us.
It seems like a nice idea to try and get rid of negative feelings and replace them with positive ones. It might make sense because who wants to feel unhappy or have to deal with unpleasant feelings, right?
However, suppressing your emotions is not helpful—understanding them, processing them, and regulating them is. This is what enables you to calm and soothe yourself.
Accept the emotions you are experiencing, know that they are there for a reason, allow them to be present so you can work with them. Remember that discomfort is a normal part of life.
Identify and label the emotion you are experiencing by saying “I am angry,” “I am overwhelmed,” “I am very anxious,” and “it’s because of (what has made you feel this way?).”
Recognize that the emotions you have right now are temporary. Emotions arise and fade, which can be hard to remember when they are very intense.
Ask yourself, “what do I really need right now?” “What does this emotion want/need to help it?” “What can I do to nurture it/myself?” Do you need some helpful distraction, some alone time, some time in nature, or to talk to a friend?
Think about what would help you. What would be a compassionate response and what would be critical? And which one will help you work through this best?
6. Look for Balance
When we are struggling with our mental health, everything can seem negative. During a pandemic, many negative things are happening, and it’s hard not to get lost in a sea of negativity.
People tell us to try and be positive, but being positive is not easy. Many people tell us to just think positive—to just replace negativity with positivity. If only it was that easy, right?
Forcing this kind of positivity is unhelpful, let alone unachievable. Forcing positivity can also make you feel like even more of a failure by making you think that you really should be able to just be positive, and when you can’t, you become self-critical of that as well.
Instead of trying or forcing positivity, look for a balance. Deal with the negatives you experience, but also recognize the positives.
Recognize the good things if and when you can and as much as you can. But don’t try to force yourself to be positive when you feel the complete opposite.
Remember that nobody feels positive all the time—and that is ok. Emotions of all kinds are normal, and that’s what being human is about.
The last mental health tip is about engaging ourselves. Try to focus your attention on something meaningful, on what you need to do, on what you were doing, or do something else that you want to do. This is about becoming immersed in something that feels worthwhile and applying your strengths in the pursuit of this goal.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you become more engaged in this kind of behavior:
- What absorbs me? What can really take my mind off things?
- What are my strengths, and how can I use them today?
- What healthy or positive experiences can I spend my time on now?
- What do I see as my purpose, and how can I pursue this purpose today?
- What things can I do today that will give me a sense of achievement?
- What things have I been wanting to do that I couldn’t because life was so busy? Can I do them now?
- Can I spend some time thinking about my past and future from an optimistic perspective?
- What’s going well for me at present?
- What positive/healthy experiences can I plan to do today (e.g. reading, music, food, games, exercise, mediation, learning, gardening, etc.)?
- What do I feel grateful for today?
- What small act of kindness can I do for someone else today?
- Who or what inspires me?
- How can I achieve a moment of calm, and what activities or tasks can help me with this?
- What experience, food, or drink can I savor today?
- What gives me enjoyment?
- Who can I connect with today (in reality, over the telephone, online)?
Living the same way before the pandemic is difficult, if not impossible. However, that shouldn’t deter us from living our lives to the fullest and maintaining positivity. These mental health tips are a good start to help you cope with the stress brought by the pandemic.