Improve Mental Health during Covid 19
May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
The timing could not be more ominous, though! With so much economic uncertainty due, overburdened healthcare systems, job losses, financial markets rising and falling like a seesaw, life feels stifled and utterly stressful. Graduates are worrying about unemployment, business owners are worrying about making ends meet, families are worrying about the never-ending death tolls and emotional grief stares at us from every corner.
Even those who are financially secure are struggling to stay happy, many cooped at home with cranky kids, while trying to balance full time jobs! Many resent that life’s magical moments have been put on hold indefinitely. This includes everything from vacations to weddings, baby showers to graduation. Even a normal walk in the park to enjoy the blooms of spring has become a fleeting dream. In such circumstances, it is not surprising that depression and mental health issues are flaring up everywhere.
Until things settle down, sharing these Top 10 proven strategies to improve your emotional and mental health during Covid 19.
Please note, this is not meant to trivialize your feelings, especially if you or your family members have been affected, or worse, lost a loved one to this gruesome disease. My heartfelt sympathies; I also recently lost a close family member, to this dreadful virus! These methods will not take the grief away completely, but will give you some relief to cope better.
Rituals and Methods to Feel Happier:
- Acknowledge your feelings.
- Take care of your body.
- The Joy of Play.
- Get a cheerleader.
- Practice mindfulness.
- Gratitude Journal.
- Care for Others.
- Manual Labor.
- Read Self-Care books.
- Get Help Online.
1) Acknowledge your feelings.
The first step is to acknowledge your negative feelings. Working from home is hard! Stressing about finances, being isolated from loved ones is frustrating even if you have options to meet virtually.
Accept that we are living in an “abnormal” world. Life is often cruel and unfair, and bad things do happen to good people. If you can, vent these emotions to a family member or trusted friend. You will much better once you get the vitriol out! If you feel hesitant to dump your negativity on someone else, then write it down and then trash the paper! This may seem childish, but it works! Try it.
Also, do NOT compare your grief to others or look for validation externally. A software engineer mom griping about having to work from home with kids screaming in the background might chafe the feelings of a painter who had to shut shop and apply for unemployment. Both are equally stressful to the person going through that situation. Who are we to judge?
2) Take care of your body.
There is proven correlation between bad physical health and bad mental health. Stress and emotions are aggravated by poor diet, lack of sleep, dehydration and hormonal changes. Studies from CDC prove that people with diabetes and hypertension are at higher risk for anxiety and depression. Hence taking care of your physical health is critical.
Make sure you eat meals at regular times, drink at least 10 glasses of water and get 8 hours of sleep. You might not be able to follow it religiously, but being at home is not an excuse to live unhealthy. Follow the “rainbow” diet by trying to incorporate colorful vegetables and fruits and cutting down on artificial sugars. Or try the “MIND” diet, a hybrid version of Mediterranean and DASH diets that works well even if you have underlying conditions like diabetes or gluten allergy.
Exercise at least 15 minutes a day; even walking around the house counts! Or try beginner routines like basic yoga, tai chi and simple stretches. There are countless free videos and tutorials on YouTube.
A disciplined approach to eating and exercise will not guarantee a better mood, but bad diets will definitely lead to cranky behavior!
3) The Joy of Play.
Being at home has given us time to pursue many leisure activities that were left on the back-burner. However, there is no rule to say that you have to make this the most productive phase of your life. If you want to relax and do nothing, that is also justified! Just don’t use it to excuse bad eating habits, though.
You do not have to start a new venture or side hustle just because some social media guru or popular magazine said so! Live life by your standards, not the illusions created by someone else. For many of us, we are already in “survival” mode, just take it one step at a time.
Instead, daydream. Play like a child, without inhibitions. If you need ideas, I suggest hopscotch, or creating an obstacle course at home or just dancing to the music in your head. Silly, but they will cheer you instantly!
Sing songs off-key. Look at photos from past vacations and relive those happy memories. Do something that brings you joy!
4) Get a cheerleader.
Everyone needs a sounding board to whom they can rant and express their negative emotions. Many times we do not need any solutions but just a sympathetic listener who can nod at regular intervals and assure us that things will get better! If possible, they should remind you of your strengths and refill the courage you need to move on!
For me, this is my mom and my sister. I return the favor for my mentees. My husband is a sounding board for his aunt and some young colleagues.
You do not have to be related to this person. If all else fails, talk to a soft toy, pillow (in private of course) or vent in a journal. There are many online support groups for grief management and counseling; many are 100% free. Join them.
5) Practice mindfulness.
The sheer pace of modern life causes unbelievable stress. Social media has many benefits, but sometimes you need to shut out all those distractions and let your mind take a break.
Try meditation or simple breathing exercises. Free apps like Insight Timer and Calm might help. I personally find the guided meditations on the former to be extremely beneficial. I don’t really believe in alternative healing and new age “mumbo-jumbo” but meditation and mindfulness have shown results even for a cynic like me.
Say a prayer to calm your nerves. If you do not know one, just pick a quote from Google.
6) Gratitude Journal.
Best way to banish negativity. Thank life (or God or any higher power) for all the amazing things that have happened to you so far! Good health, gift of sight/smell, the sunny blue sky, loyal friends. Write down at least 50 things you are grateful for in a paper or journal. It could be as mundane as a colleague pinging you to say hi, or an old school chum who sent a hilarious meme on WhatsApp.
7) Care for Others.
When we service others, it releases feel-good hormones that reduce our stress levels and improve brain functioning. Caring for others is an easy way to distract you from thinking about your present situation.
When I say others, it could be a young child, an elderly parent or even a pet. Worst case buy an ornamental plant or flower shrub from a discount retailer for <$10 and water it everyday. The plant will add a sparkle to your room and joy to your soul.
8) Manual Labor.
Manual tasks that require focus are a magnificent way of distracting you from your daily worries. Some examples to try are coloring books, gardening, cooking from scratch, carpentry, sewing, etc. The results do not have to be functional or good looking; you are not selling them on Etsy. The important thing is just to keep you occupied and achieve a sense of accomplishment that comes from the joy of creation!
9) Read Self-Care books.
There are countless books on improving mental health and your healthcare provider might have specific recommendations based on your personal history. However, for generic mood improvement and coping with anxiety/depression, I suggest you start with one of the following four books:
a. You Can Heal Your Life, by Louisa Hay
b. The Mind-Gut connection, by Dr. Emeran Mayer.
c. Depression: A Teen’s Guide to Thrive and Survive. Authors — Dr. Toner and Dr. Freeland.
d. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, by Lori Gottleib.
10) Get Professional Help (Online).
I kept this last because there is a subconscious stigma associated with going to a counselor or therapist or other mental health specialists. Our emotional health is a critical part of our lives and I wish more people would talk about it openly.
Due to the pandemic, many employers are offering FREE counseling sessions and online help. So check if you or your spouse can take advantage of something like this. In the US, some health insurance policies will cover a couple of sessions per year. If no such facility is available to you, there are many local university hospitals and teaching clinics that provide such services at affordable costs. You just need to search diligently. There are also apps that allow you to speak confidentially with a licensed therapist, but costs vary.
Actress and activist Taraji P Henson has also donated a large amount to the Free Virtual Therapy Support Campaign to finance free therapy for Black Women. 1000 women have already signed up and some slots are still remaining. You can read about the campaign and her interview here.
Experiment with one or all these methods. They will benefit you lifelong, even after things return to normal.
Stay safe and positive!