Since arriving in the United States in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic truly has turned our world upside down. Many thousands have lost their lives, while countless others have lost their livelihoods. In light of this new reality, experiencing feelings of grief, anger, fear, anxiety, weariness and cynicism is quite understandable and normal.
Even if you haven’t been directly affected by the virus, you’ve likely felt its impact on your life. The ways we move about, educate our kids and do our jobs have changed rapidly, and now even something as mundane as a trip to the grocery store can be a cause for anxiety and stress.
“Adapting to a global pandemic can be unsettling and challenging, since none of us has been through anything like this before,” says Luanne Bender Long, PhD, LPC, LMFT, clinical manager at Sentara RMH Behavioral Health. “COVID-19 has resulted in the loss of our sense of predictability, control and justice, and has seriously challenged the belief that we can protect ourselves and our families.”
And although we can’t wish COVID-19 away, we can take some steps to make our lives a little better during this stressful and unusual time.
Get Reliable Information
Since COVID-19 is a new disease, the medical community is learning more about it on a continual basis—which, in turn, means information about the pandemic in the media has changed frequently. As a result, you may find a lot of confusing and conflicting news out there.
When evaluating such information, ask yourself what facts a story states and what biases the media outlet or reporter may have, and make sure you get information about COVID-19 from reliable sources, says Tammy James, RN, MDiv, chaplain at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital. She suggests these websites for the latest information about testing, safety and more:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov
- World Health Organization (WHO): https://www.who.int
Get Regular Exercise and Eat a Healthy Diet
Although many of us are hunkering down at home these days in order to stay safe, getting out of the house regularly—done in a safe manner—can have real benefits. In fact, something as simple as going for a 30-minute walk each day can boost your mood and improve your health. Be sure to drink enough water while exercising, though, since dehydration can lead to headaches and irritability.
Also, try to resist the urge to overeat when you’re feeling stressed or anxious. Similar to alcohol and drug use, “emotional eating” is often used as a form of self medication, according to Bender Long. Although you may feel comforted while you’re eating a tasty treat, turning to “comfort food” in times of stress isn’t healthy in the long run.
It’s okay to acknowledge your sadness over the loss of human connection. Cry when you need to, lament your losses and then move forward.
Also, you’ll likely feel less isolated if you stay in touch with friends and family. Try to connect with loved ones through social media, video chat meetings, texts and phone calls. “You can even mail letters and cards to loved ones,” says James. “It’s a great way to stay in touch, and it’s fun to get ‘real’ mail back. Get your kids or grandkids involved in the letter writing!”
Be Kind to Yourself
- Find healthy ways to lower your stress level and relax:
- Read or listen to a podcast
- Find a new hobby or pick up an old one again
- Plant a garden
- Practice yoga
- Foster or adopt a pet
And if social media causes you to feel stress, scroll past negative posts and comments, or avoid social media altogether.
Take Time for Yourself
With many schools and offices closed, families and loved ones are spending a lot more time together at home these days, Bender Long notes. “That can be challenging, even if there’s a lot of love,” she says.
Set boundaries and take regular time to be alone, if you need it. “It’s not selfish to take time for yourself—it’s actually good for your mental well-being,” Bender Long adds. “Time to yourself could mean taking a bath with the door locked, going for a drive or simply spending some time alone in your bedroom.”
Gain Strength from Spiritual Beliefs
Your spiritual beliefs can give you a sense of inner peace and help you worry less about external issues. Prayer and meditation can help decrease anxiety and fear and lead to a greater sense of well-being.
“When people meditate, they become centered in the present moment,” explains James. “Meditation helps keep the mind from worrying or obsessing about things beyond one’s control.”
If your place of worship isn’t open or you’re staying home for safety reasons, consider attending virtual worship services. If your church, synagogue or mosque doesn’t offer virtual services, there are plenty that do. James also suggests attending virtual services of other faith traditions to broaden your horizons.
Reflect upon the positive things that have come out of this time, and try to appreciate the growth in resiliency you may have experienced.
Consider keeping a gratitude journal, writing down what you’re thankful for and your successes each day. Looking back through the journal at a later time can be inspiring and encouraging.
“Ask yourself what you’ve gone through and succeeded at in the past,” says Bender Long. “Use that as a guide to say, ‘I can do this.’”
Don’t Forget: We’re All in This Together
Even when you’re feeling alone, know that many others are feeling very much the same these days.
“One would hope that this pandemic will draw us together in our shared humanity,” says James. “We are all in this together and need one another to get through this. If we stop to hear each other and stop making assumptions about each other, we can see the hearts of our fellow citizens and truly know them.”
We will get through this together, says Bender Long. “We need each other to do this, knowing that on the other side, we’re still going to be a community and family,” she concludes. “We can do this.”
Get help if you or someone you love is struggling or abusing alcohol or drugs.
Call or visit online:
•Sentara RMH Behavioral Health Specialists: 540-564-5104
•Region Ten mental health services: 434-972-1800
•National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255
•Local resources, podcasts and updates to help decrease stress and promote healthy living
Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa all may look different this year. Family gatherings may be smaller or even canceled, and many of us may need to avoid traveling.
Get creative with your holidays, says Luanne Bender Long, PhD, LPC, LMFT, clinical manager at Sentara RMH Behavioral Health. That may mean connecting with loved ones via Zoom, FaceTime or another video chat platform. It could involve wearing masks and practicing social distancing at gatherings. Try creating new traditions if the old ones won’t work this year.
Smaller gatherings of 6–8 people may be safer, but be sure to check the number of COVID-19 cases in your area before making any plans.