As the Coronavirus continues to spread across the country, many of us have taken to self-quarantining to do our part in helping stop the spread. As of yesterday, we were asked to avoid groups of 10 or more. While in other parts of the country, people were told to not leave the house unless absolutely necessary.
We’re living through unprecedented times, which can stir up anxiety for many people in itself. But being asked to navigate this time while in isolation can make it even more taxing on our mental health.
Humans are social beings – it’s in our nature to turn to each other for comfort during times of uncertainty. So, if you’re finding this pandemic particularly challenging, ironically, you’re not alone.
To help us all get through this as best we can, we’ve put together a few tips to keep your mental health well during social distancing.
We’re lucky that many of us have easy and immediate access to the internet and a smartphone, so use them. Rather than only texting your friends, try FaceTiming. If you typically go out with friends on the weekend, try setting up a FaceTime or Skype call and get as many people engaged as you’d like. You could cook a meal “together,” watch a show “together,” or just talk about how you’re feeling during this strange time. Chances are, they’re feeling some anxiety too.
Try Something New
Or revisit a hobby you’ve abandoned. Download an app and try learning a new language, dust off the guitar that’s been hiding in the corner, try your hand at drawing, or finally give meditation a chance.
The uncertainty of this time can be daunting and overwhelming but try looking at it as time to invest back into yourself. We can so often get caught up in daily responsibilities that we feel we don’t have time to do things just for ourselves. But now is the perfect time. And remember, you don’t have to be good at whatever you choose – just try something. And if you don’t like it, try something else. You may just find a new passion.
Eat Your Veggies
You may have stocked up on dry goods and nonperishables, but this isn’t a free pass to live off of Doritos and mac n’ cheese. Your brain needs nutrients to stay healthy, and now it’s particularly important to give it what it needs.
For example, foods rich in antioxidants work to protect the brain against oxidative stress. Oxidative stress contributes to inflammation, which in turn, can inhibit neurotransmitter production. Research has shown that lower levels of antioxidants have been linked to higher levels of anxiety, and antioxidants could even help stabilize mood. Try eating more blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and spinach, to name a few. Or, try your hand at a new recipe. You’ve got some extra time at home, so why not experiment?
Exercise is incredibly important for maintaining brain health as well as mental health. Working out improves blood flow to the brain. About a third of the brain is made up of blood vessels alone, making substantial blood flow important for brain health. In fact, increased blood flow to the brain correlates with better cognitive function, improved memory, and overall protection against decline.
Furthermore, exercise causes our brains to release an array of beneficial chemicals. Norepinephrine can be released, which can help improve attention, perception, and motivation. Exercise can cause a release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDFN), which can help protect and repair neurons from degeneration. “Feel-good” chemicals are released too, like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. These chemicals can dull the sensation of pain, improve mood, and help support better sleep.
So, while you may not be able to go to the gym, there are still things you can do at home. Try yoga, running stairs if you have them, lifting weights (or soup cans, or gallons of milk), or any type of bodyweight exercise that doesn’t require equipment. Just be sure to listen to your body and not overdo it.
Don’t Sleep In (Too Much)
It may be tempting to turn off the alarm clock entirely, but you might want to leave it as is. Sleeping too much is both a symptom and trigger for depression, and it can make anxiety worse.
Make an effort to go to bed at a reasonable time, get seven to nine hours of sleep, and wake up around the same time every day. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule will help maintain a sense of normalcy and can even help motivate us to do more with our day.
Most importantly, if you’re struggling, reach out for help. Consider looking into remote counseling and tell someone that you’re struggling. While this is a tough time for many of us, it will pass, and we’ll get through it together.