COVID-19 and Your Mental Health
The Impacts of COVID-19 on Your Mental Health
As trauma therapists, we’ve seen the impact of COVID-19 and quarantining first hand. And we’ve even felt the effects ourselves. From spending more time than usual at home, to hearing statements like these more than we ever thought we would:
“How’s your quarantine coming?
“How are you holding up with all of this craziness?”
“Do you like my new facemask? My grandma made it.”
“Hey, do you know what day the store stocks toilet paper?”
It’s odd… isn’t it? That these statements are our new regular. Most of us have been stuck at home for almost two months now, and the end may be near in Dallas, but the fear that comes with that can be debilitating. We all have so many questions that go unanswered and yet have so much time to dwell on the unknown.
Maybe for some of you, this quarantine has been a great time to catch up on things, get that extra workout in, and spend more time with your loved ones.
For others, it may not seem so pleasant.
This may be the first time that you’ve truly felt out of control, you don’t know what’s coming next, and the idea of staying in the house another day seems almost unbearable. You want your freedom back, you want your routine back, and frankly, you just want your life to feel like your own again. For some people, COVID-19 is amping up their anxiety. For some, their response is manifesting as depression. For others, it’s activating past experiences of trauma and feeling out of control.
Today we’re going to dive into some difficulties that some of you may be going through during this pandemic, and we’ll explore some coping strategies to help you get through COVID-19.
Common responses to COVID-19
Although some people are enjoying this quarantine, most people are starting to feel it wear themselves down. It seems that the longer it goes on, the harder it gets. Anxiety is spiking. Depression is louder than ever. Social isolation is harsh.
But… no matter what you feel, you’re not alone in this, and your feelings are valid.
Most people have never been through an experience like this before, and it can be challenging to know how to respond. So let’s take a look at some of the difficulties you may be experiencing right now:
1) Social Isolation
We are naturally social beings. Yes, even you introverted ones need people too. Most of you will say that being with people gives you energy, makes you feel loved, and keeps you active.
This may be the longest you’ve gone without seeing friends or relatives, and it’s starting to take a toll.
Going without your loved ones may be causing you to feel sad, lonely, and maybe even a bit lost.
Maybe you’ve been dealing with anxiety for a long time, and this quarantine is making it more challenging to maintain balance. Or perhaps you’ve never had any history of anxiety, and yet you find yourself feeling restless and worrisome with uncontrollable thoughts. These anxious feelings are normal in times like these.
Feeling out of control is scary, and if we only knew what came next, it would put your mind at ease. But we don’t, and the thought of the unknown is keeping you up at night.
3) Dreams and nightmares
This is a typical response to any sort of crisis. You are always hearing about the negativities coming from COVID-19, you have so much time to dwell on it, and it has impacted your everyday life immensely.
Being surrounded by talk of COVID-19 and the stress that comes with it can lead to vivid dreams and scary nightmares. In a way, it can be an outlet for your mind to try and process the craziness of your everyday life.
Dreams and nightmares can also come about when you are feeling a lack of control in your life. You may be feeling tired, exhausted, and stressed with a yearning for peace again.
4) Drinking more than your normal
When people drink, they typically do it because they want to “loosen up” or even let go and feel less in control. So it makes complete sense that in the middle of a pandemic, you start drinking more. Drinking may be your way of coping with some of the worries you have around this pandemic.
Or it can be less about your worries and more about things like.. you’re in the house… a lot, you don’t have to stress about early mornings with the kids, and…you’re probably bored. It’s essential to make sure that your increase in drinking doesn’t become your only outlet for your fear or boredom.
Although all of these responses to COVID-19 are difficult to be dealing with, they’re all valid. It’s hard to feel alone, and it’s challenging to feel like you’re not in control of your life.
Waking up to nightmares and strange dreams can be challenging when you feel like your everyday life is already a nightmare. And drinking may be fun at the moment, but maybe when you wake up, you realize your worries haven’t gone away.
So what are some healthy ways to help you cope during this pandemic?
Coping mechanisms for COVID-19
1) Focus on what you can control
It’s so easy to get caught up in all of the things that are going wrong right now. Whether it be an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, a lack of proper materials, or the current state of the economy, they can overwhelm us when we dwell on them too long.
One way to help ease your worry is to focus on what you can control. This is an ideal strategy for anxiety management.
There is a little exercise that can help you put things into perspective for you. Take out a sheet of paper and draw a big circle in the middle. Inside the loop, begin writing something that you are in control of. This can be your daily routine, what you eat, your attitude, etc.
On the outside of the circle, you will write down things that are out of your control. This can include any of the unexplained things like when everything will open back up, what the weather will be, how many more people are going to be affected, etc.
The point of this exercise is to help you see the things that you can focus on. It may be vital for you to know what’s going on in the world and with the community around you, and it’s great that you want to be informed! However, there’s a difference between knowing and dwelling. When you dwell on the knowledge, you begin to worry about things that are out of your control.
When you’re worried about something out of your inner circle of control, try letting it go and picking something within your circle that you can work on. This can help bring a sense of power to your life.
2) Make a routine
As much as you may love a vacation for a week when you can just go with the flow and not stress about anything, there’s a point where you want to have structure again. And that’s precisely how many people are feeling now.
Humans are naturally routined creatures. Have you ever walked into a new class where there wasn’t assigned seating, so the choice of an uncomfortable plastic chair was all yours?
Maybe you’re the front row, raise your hand type of student, or the back row, texting in class one. Either way, what happens the next time you go back to that class?
You pick the same seat. Sometimes you even feel like it’s YOURS…
“How dare Becky thinks she can take my spot the third week into courses!”
That’s because routines give us control.
They calm your anxiety by helping you know what’s coming next, and they give your mind space to work on other things since you’re decreasing the number of decisions to be made.
This is precisely why making a routine for yourself now may be the answer to your worries.
Insider tip: this is also FANTASTIC for you moms and dads with children. You can create weekly schedules or day-to-day ones to help your youngins have some structure. Maybe less screen time and more say… quiet time? Chores? The possibilities are endless.
3) Exercise or Pick up Hobbies
The benefits of exercising in times like these are immense. You can add it to your daily routine to make you feel more productive, you can experience the rush of endorphins to make you feel positive, and you can be proud that you’re staying disciplined in the midst of the unknown.
You can get a good workout at home in just 20 minutes a day. There’s HIIT cardio or circuit training to help get your heart rate up by doing simple body movements.
Twenty minutes of this, and you’ll be ready to take your second-morning nap. Even going outside and walking for 20 minutes can help you feel better! And it’s also a great way to get the whole family involved.
If exercising isn’t your thing or maybe you’ve already been getting your daily sweat in (good job to you!), then another uncomplicated thing to add to your routine is a new hobby.
Maybe it’s time to take out those crochet needles, blow off the dust on that piano, or get to smashing the glass for your stone mosaics.
Whatever it is, getting creative and trying out new things can make the mundane of everyday life seem more manageable and even more enjoyable.
4) Journal and Meditate
With all of your new hobbies and exciting new routine, it can be easy to try and cover up the things that have been making you worry. Of course, as therapists, we’re not condoning ignoring your feelings…
On the next trip to the store, get yourself one of those $1 notebooks. Something that can strictly be used for your thoughts and feelings. Now, this isn’t going to be a notebook that gets slid under the couch and forgotten about. This is a special notebook. Do you know why it’s so special?
Cause you’re going to use it.
I want you to write anything you find yourself worrying about, any dreams you have, anything that causes your anxiety to spike or that triggers you.
Writing it all down and getting the thoughts out of your head can help you process what you’re feeling. It can help you work through those feelings to help you understand what’s causing them.
And of course, pairing that journaling with meditation may benefit you more than you know. The amygdala in your brain helps to regulate emotions and deals with emotions around fear.
And the scientific evidence is now suggesting that meditation helps to calm your amygdala.
This means that your consistent meditation can help give you a sense of peace and control over your fleeting thoughts. And it can also be a way for you to decrease the activity of your amygdala, leading to higher levels of relaxation.
This quarantine hasn’t been easy for most of you. Maybe you thought you’d enjoy all of this time being at home, but it’s been way harder than you expected. Perhaps this experience has been triggering for you, and you’ve felt like you have no control of your life anymore.
I’m hoping these coping mechanisms can help make this pandemic a bit easier, but if you’re still feeling the negative impact of this pandemic and want to explore those feelings together, please reach out to us. We’re ready to start this journey with you.