How to Take Care of Your Mental Health During the Pandemic

As COVID-19 continues to spread across the country, social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders are being indefinitely extended. But experts fear we may be heading toward a mental health crisis. 

How to Stay Connected

Remember that what we’re truly practicing right now is physical distancing, not social distancing. When we’re physically distant from our loved ones, we need social connection more than ever. “Direct person to person interactions triggers parts of our nervous system that release a ‘cocktail’ of neurotransmitters tasked with regulating our response to stress and anxiety,” says Dr. Eric First, stress management and research expert. “In other words, when we communicate with people face-to-face, it could help to make us more resilient to stress factors in the long.”

Embrace video calls over audio alone. Thanks to technology, it's never been easier to video call your loved ones, whether one-on-one or in a group. “Studies have shown that individuals experience a deeper level of connection and emotional wellness when engaging in face-to-face conversation online vs. merely a phone call (without eye contact)," says Dr. Joseph Yi, holistic psychiatrist. "It may feel uncomfortable at first to make the extra effort for FaceTiming but this will be well worth it to keep you mentally fit through our current challenge."

Mark it on your calendar. Treat your phone calls like appointments. “Plan and schedule video chats with your friends in advance. Looking forward to time on the calendar where you can see your friends smile, see their expressions, and chat through video can be a wonderful thing to look forward to. Schedule this in advance, so you can all have the time free,” says Katie Ziskind, licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Wisdom Within Counseling.

Identify your support system. “Many of us rely on support systems, whether that be through work, school, places of worship, or social groups. It’s important to still reach out virtually to these groups and keep that sense of community in your everyday life,” says Dr. Diana Concannon, PsyD, licensed psychologist and crisis response expert.

Make it meaningful. Skip the small talk and use your call time to delve into how you're really feeling. “Talk with friends and family about your feelings of stress and anxiety; it can be very stress-reducing to share one's thoughts and fears with understanding loved ones,” says Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist. Remember that we're all in this together, and it helps to vent to each other.

Rekindle old friendships. As most of the country is effectively on pause right now, we've been given the gift of time. “Reconnect with long lost friends, as there is no better time than now to find out how your high school friends or college roommates are doing. If you are craving human touch, they might need it too and would appreciate someone reaching out,” says Priyanka.

“Don’t worry that you are bothering others by reaching out — chances are, they will welcome the increased sense of connection. Don’t isolate yourself any more than is necessary,” says Lauren Cook, doctoral candidate of clinical psychology, Pepperdine University.

Write letters. If you're not much of a phone person, it's harder to feel connected to the outside world. “Be intentional about connecting with others during this time.  Not only do you need to hear from you, but they need to hear from you. For those people in your life that you are missing, right them a letter to tell them how much you miss and appreciate them.  It will mean a lot and help you feel better,” says Christy Pennison, licensed professional counselor and owner of Be Inspired Counseling & Consulting.

Find the method that works for you. “You don't need to be on a one-hour video call to feel belonging. It can be as easy as sending a meme or playing Scrabble with someone you know on the phone. Any activity that involves interaction with another human being tends to be beneficial to our mental well-being,” says Sander.

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