Staying Healthy During a Global Crisis: Resources and Tips for Mental Health

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By: Amy Marchall, Psy.D.

As a psychologist, I am used to interacting with people during a crisis. These past few weeks, the spread of COVID-19 have put us all on edge, as more and more people are placed in home quarantine in an attempt to slow the spread. Even those not placed under quarantine have been advised to socially isolate until the pandemic is under control. We have access to unlimited news, and this access combined with limited distractions in our homes only makes the situation more stressful.

Many do not have the option to stay home. Even as schools, libraries, and museums close, retailers and restaurants are staying open in a lot of places, employees are too rarely given paid time off for illness and they can often live paycheck to paycheck.

People with a history of mental illness might particularly struggle during this time, but even people who have never struggled with their mental health could be prone to symptoms. It is normal and expected to experience stress in stressful situations! So how can you cope during this difficult time?

When You Can’t Isolate
A lot of people do not have the option to work from home. Many employers are not offering paid time off, and landlords, electric companies, and other bill collectors may not be giving people a break on payments. There is talk about the government passing bills to address this, but in the meantime, we have to work with the current system.

With schools and daycares closing, you might find yourself stuck with work obligations and lack of childcare. Co-workers can support each other by creating schedules to help each other out with childcare while others have shifts. Follow CDC guidelines for cleanliness whenever possible, and be aware of your own stress level. On top of already stressful jobs and your own anxiety about COVID-19, you have to interact with hundreds of people who want to take their own heightened stress out on you. Employee self-care and vent sessions are more important than ever during this time.

Another consideration when schools are closed is for families who rely on lunch programs. In Hennepin County, 41% of students are eligible for these programs, and parents might struggle to find alternatives without school in session. Here is a list of businesses that are offering free lunch to children during the closures.

When You Can Isolate
Even for the most extreme introvert, two weeks of social isolation is a lot. What can you do to make the time more enjoyable? Catching up on your favorite show? Finally reading that novel? Starting a new art project? If you view your social isolation as the gift of time, you can explore some of these activities that you did not previously have time for. Your local library might have a free app that allows you to check out books virtually, and dozens of museums around the world are offering free virtual tours. There are literally thousands of hours of free educational videos on YouTube; you can learn a new skill while under self-isolation! There are also channels to help your kids stay caught up on schoolwork.

Keep Your Schedule
When you do not leave your home all day, it can be easy to lose track of time. You might stay in your pajamas and forget to bathe for days at a time, stay awake much of the night, and snack rather than having true meals. In addition to being typical responses to losing our daily structure, these are all symptoms of depression, and these behaviors can trigger your symptoms if you have a history of mental illness.

Even if you are off work, set your alarm for a reasonable time. Get out of bed and get ready for the day as if you are going to leave your house. Try to eat regular meals, and go to bed at the same time each day. If you are working remotely during this time, keep to a regular work schedule, and if you can, get outside every day for fresh air and vitamin D. We need structure even if we do not like it, and this is doubly true for children!

Buy What You Need
You may have noticed a shortage of toilet paper, baby wipes, and hand sanitizer at the local stores. Of course, the last thing anyone wants if they cannot leave their house for two weeks is to run out of toilet paper, but who needs 200 roles?

There is a psychological reason for our panicked, irrational bulk purchases. Over the past few months, we have seen COVID-19 go from an anomaly that was contained to one area to a global pandemic. Even though the fatality rate is relatively low, it is higher than other viruses we are exposed to, and most people have loved ones who are particularly vulnerable to complications. It’s terrifying, out of the ordinary, and out of our control. Humans have a need to feel in control of our environment—it is why children seek negative attention and why we immediately decide not to do something when someone asks us to do it.

For some of us, this need for control comes out as crisis purchases. If this applies to you, now that you understand your behavior, you can take some deep breaths and choose a healthier way to manage your emotions. (Of course, there are some people looking for an opportunity to price gouge in a crisis. If this is happening in your area, you can report them, but please know price gouging is not illegal in Minnesota)

Use the Available Resources
Managing mental health is so important during a crisis, but some of your regular resources might not be available. The following are three apps that can be downloaded on to Apple and Samsung devices, take minutes to use, and although there are in-app purchase options, all can be used for free:

Calm: Visual and auditory guided meditation activities.
Antistress: Mindful and fidget activities.
Calm Harm: Strategies to work through urges to self-harm.

For those who do not have access to a smartphone, below are some online resources that can be accessed from any device:

The Honest Guys: YouTube guided meditations.
Yoga With Adriene: Short yoga classes that can be done at home.
Mindful.org: Website with resources to self-teach mindfulness and meditation.
Beautiful Games for Relaxation and Stress Relief: Interactive online experiences designed to reduce stress.

According to City of Minneapolis Council Membeer Andrew Johnson, the City of Minneapolis has opened up its city-wide wifi for free for all to use. You can connect to the city’s wifi network via “City of Minneapolis Public WiFi.”

Keep in Touch
The Internet is truly the glory of our modern age. For all the valid criticism of social media, it allows us to connect with our loved ones when we cannot be with them physically. You can call, FaceTime, or message when travel is not an option, and you can be present with people who cannot have visitors because they are vulnerable to infection. You can even keep your therapy appointments if your provider offers this service!

Coping with stress and mental health looks different during a global crisis. With a solid plan in place, you can manage your mental health symptoms and take care of yourself even during a pandemic. Take care of yourself, and remember to wash your hands.

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