Are you following your community’s social distance advisories?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it’s vital to stay at least six feet away from others to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The problem? The guidelines designed to keep you physically safe may also take a toll on your mental health. You may feel a little lonely or anxious, perhaps even angry or depressed.
Here are 10 tips from the American Psychological Associationand the National Alliance on Mental Illness to help protect your mental health during the social distance period:
1. Consider social distancing an opportunity, not a hardship.
Many believe their lives in today’s fast-paced world are too busy — always rushing to work, school, meetings, or children’s activities. Use this time of social distancing to slow down, rest and identify what’s really important in your life. Plan for the future. Plan the steps that you can take for a happier life after COVID-19 now.
Though many of us have felt helpless in the face of the pandemic, consider this your opportunity to do something — a chance to do your part and fight back by helping to minimize the spread of COVID-19. It is all in one’s perspective.
2. Make an isolation “to-do” list.
At some point, the social distancing period will end. Use this time to do things you’ve always wanted to do. Try a new recipe or start a new workout routine. May be even learn a new language via the Internet or an online app. Spend one-on-one time with your children. Start a family game night. Plant a garden. Draw. Paint. Tackle overdue household repairs. Instead of feeling frustrated, you can gain a sense of joy and accomplishment.
3. Create a well-balanced daily routine.
When you’re living under stay-at-home advisories, it’s easy to wander around the house, feeling like you have no direction or true purpose. Instead, establish a daily schedule. Fill your days with a variety of activities — work, housekeeping, a fun workout, outdoor time, entertainment and some communication with friends and relatives. A well-balanced routine helps you live with a sense of order. You’ll be happier and more productive, too.
4. Go outside and take a walk or run through your neighborhood.
Don’t be offended if your neighbor swerves 20 feet away from you to keep a social distance. Their intent is not to be rude. It is to keep they and their loved ones safe. Don’t take offense. Just smile and say, “Hello.” Wave to people. Enjoy a conversation from across the street. This social interaction will lighten your mood and give you a sense of normalcy.
5. Make visual contact with friends and family members.
Use video chat services — FaceTime, Zoom, Skype and others — to talk and reconnect with people you haven’t seen lately. Find out how others are handling the social distance and stay-at-home advisories. You might pick up a few coping strategies.
6. Use your phone and the Internet to stay connected.
Make phone calls to check in on your friends and relatives. Form text groups and share funny memes. Access support networks and forums through social media. Stay connected, every day.
7. Your household pet can be a huge source of emotional support.
Pets can be an important source of support for people who are experiencing loneliness and stress, mourning a death or dealing with a personal loss. Love your pets and enjoy the love that they give you back.
(But remember, if you’re sick with COVID-19, the CDC recommends restricting contact with pets just as you would with people until researchers learn more about the risk of transmission.)
8. Avoid too much news coverage of COVID-19.
There’s no need to channel surf to find every disturbing news update. Instead, psychologists suggest checking for important news updates only once or twice a day. Balance the time you spend watching news reports with peaceful activities. Read a book, listen to music or take a warm bath. Turn the TV news OFF.
9. Take care of your physical and mental health.
Eat nutritious foods. Sleep well. Exercise. Avoid excessive use of alcohol. If you’ve been seeing a therapist, inquire about the possibility of continuing your sessions via telehealth or even just the telephone. A healthy lifestyle contributes to your sense of well-being.
10. Practice mindfulness. Schedule another time to worry.
Try to focus on what you’re doing at the moment — through meditation, yoga or simply by taking a walk. Don’t overwhelm yourself with worst-case scenarios. Some psychologists suggest that you schedule a short time in the day to think about the things that concern you and how you might resolve them. When the time’s up, move on to another activity. You can find mindfulness apps on the Internet.
If your anxiety lasts for more than several days in a row, seek support from a licensed healthcare provider. To find assistance through Tanner, call 770-812-9551 (open 24 hours) or visit tanner.org/behavioral-health-care/resources.
Dr. Kenneth J. Genova is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology. He earned his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He completed his internship and residency at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, NY as well as earning his degree in psychology from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.