At the moment, Americans and people around the world are currently advised to stay home to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, or the coronavirus. While this is a sensible precaution to protect public health, it may seriously test many people’s mental health, especially anyone with a history of anxiety or depression. No one knows how long the quarantine might last but the current estimate is at least eight weeks. On top of that, people aren’t sure how this virus might affect their jobs or the economy overall. Then, of course, there is the possibility that you or someone you care about might get sick. Compounding all this uncertainty, we are denied major sources of comfort such as spending time with family and friends, religious and spiritual gatherings, and 12-Step meetings. If the quarantine has got you on edge, here are some suggestions for managing your mental health.
Don’t Obsess Over the News
It’s tempting to spend your day refreshing Twitter or watching cable news, trying to keep up on new developments with the virus. That’s especially true since this is--we hope--a once-in-a-lifetime event. We want to know if we should be doing anything, if there have been new cases or cures, how many cases there are in our area, what the government is doing, and when this whole thing might be over. However, obsessing over the news, now more than ever, is only going to make you feel worse. While a lot of the media coverage has been uncharacteristically measured, it can still give you the feeling that we’re all living in a disaster movie. Try to limit your news consumption to once a day. Check the CDC website for information and updates, and otherwise keep calm and carry on.
Stay In Touch With Your Therapist
If you’ve had issues with anxiety, depression, or substance use, you may have a regular therapist. You may or may not be able to keep your regular appointments, depending on where you live. Be sure to contact your therapist and make some kind of backup plan. A lot of therapists are now offering HIPAA-compliant video sessions, so that may be an option. Other people have been doing phone sessions or Skype sessions. If you don’t have a regular therapist or if you can’t get in touch with your therapist and you or someone you care about is feeling overwhelmed, sad, depressed, anxious, or possibly a danger to yourself or others, call 911 or call SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990.
Since the quarantine feels like something between a sick day and a holiday, you might feel tempted to splurge on junk food. However, it’s important to keep two things in mind. First, this might go on for a while and you don’t want your cheat day eating to become a habit. Second, what you eat has a pretty direct effect on your mental health. This effect appears to be especially strong for depression. Try to eat meals that are mainly composed of whole foods, especially fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, legumes, and lean meats, especially fish. As much as possible, avoid processed foods, especially processed meats, which are highly inflammatory, sugar, and fried food. If you’re recovering from addiction, it should go without saying that you should avoid alcohol as well.
Try to Get Some Exercise
Exercise is one of the best ways to boost your mood and lower stress. It releases mood-boosting endorphins and serotonin as well as BDNF, which grows neurons in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that helps consolidate memories. Exercise also increases blood flow to the brain, especially the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functions such as planning, emotional regulation, foresight, and self-control--all of which are great to have in a crisis. At the moment, it’s still considered safe to walk, run, or bike outside, since the risk of transmission is low in outdoor environments. There are also plenty of workouts and yoga routines you can do in a small space at home. Check out YouTube for some options that appeal to you.
Reframe How You Think About the Quarantine
The funny thing about the quarantine is that up until a few weeks ago, there seemed to be no end of complaints about how Americans never properly socialize anymore. We all just stay home and play video games and watch Netflix. When we do go out, we spend all our time looking at our phones. Now that we have to stay home, it seems like a huge burden. Instead of feeling constrained, choose to focus on all the stuff you can do at home. Catch up on reading, cleaning, TV shows, or other projects that you seem to always put off.
Stick to Your Regular Routine as Much as Possible
Part of the stress of being quarantined is that it feels like the whole world has suddenly changed. Change is always a bit stressful, especially changes you can’t control. Part of the solution in this case is to take control of the things you can control and stick to your normal routine as much as you can while still complying with public health recommendations. Keep getting up at your regular time and taking a shower, even if you don’t have to be anywhere. Eat your regular meals, do the things you normally do, and go to bed at your regular time. If you are recovering from addiction or a mental health issue, there are probably things you normally do at home as part of your recovery plan and there’s no reason why you can’t keep up with those.
Stay in Communication With Friends and Family
We have more ways to communicate than any people in history. Don’t get so much into your reading or binge watching that you don’t keep in touch with friends and family.
Remember, We’re All in the Same Boat
If you’re sitting home alone during the quarantine, it’s easy to feel like you are alone in the world. However, there are millions, perhaps hundreds of millions who are having very similar experiences at the moment. So first, consider that whatever discomfort you’re feeling as a result of the quarantine is a small sacrifice that you’re making willingly to help protect the most vulnerable people in our society. Second, consider the welfare of other people under quarantine. Approaching the situation with compassion helps you feel less alone and you may think of some small way to help your neighbors too.
You never know what kinds of challenges you may face when recovering from a mental health issue or a substance use disorder. While we typically prepare ourselves to cope with more mundane sorts of stress, the same principles basically apply for outlier events like a pandemic. At The Foundry, we know that recovery from addiction is really about giving you the skills to lead a happier, more fulfilling life. To learn more about our treatment programs, explore our website or call us today at 1-844-955-1066.