If you’ve been lying awake at night racked with anxiety – worrying about everything from when life will get back to “normal” to loss of income or fear about your health or the health of your family members – you’re not alone.
In fact, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 45% of adults reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted by the ongoing pandemic. And experts warn that, if untreated, these widespread mental health issues may lead to more substance abuse and even suicide.
Luckily, there are lots of ways that you can manage your anxiety and depression, even when we are still social distancing from one another.
We spoke with Soula Souflakis, LCPC, a counselor at the Center for Holistic Medicine, about things people can do to reduce anxiety and stay happy and sane while they shelter-at-home.
- Connect With Others
Souflakis says one of the most important things you can do to prevent anxiety and depression during the pandemic is to stay in touch with people. This is especially true for people who live alone, but also important for people who are quarantined with just a few family members.
“It’s very easy to get comfortable with this pattern of self-isolation and social withdrawal, especially when we are given orders to distance ourselves. However, our need for social contact very much resembles brain patterns found in hunger for food. We cannot ignore them,” Souflakis says. “Social isolation does not equate to being alone.”
But in order to follow the CDC’s recommendations about social distancing, Souflakis says you might need to get creative about how you connect with others. For example, you could try scheduling Zoom or FaceTime sessions with family and friends, driving by people’s homes to talk to them from a distance or engaging in birthday parades if invited. Saying hello to your neighbors across the street can help too!
- Talk to a Therapist
One of the great things about the Covid-19 pandemic is that most insurance companies are now approving telehealth appointments with therapists, meaning that you don’t need to even leave your house to get mental health support. “If you are having trouble concentrating, making decisions, feeling anxious, depressed, angry, irritable, crying easily, having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, please seek help if these symptoms are affecting your ability to function in your daily life,” Souflakis says. Make an appointment with one of our behavioral therapists.
- Practice Mindfulness
Another way to stay grounded and avoid dwelling on the future is to practice mindfulness. “Being mindful acts as a significant way to decrease the experience of anticipatory anxiety. Focusing on the present can be a powerful antidote to anxiety. When we are fully in the present moment, anxiety does not exist. Anxiety requires worry about an unknown outcome, which can only be about the future. Future-oriented fear can hijack our minds,” Souflakis says.
To practice mindfulness, all you have to do is focus on the present. You can do it while you are active – such as while you are walking or cleaning the dishes – or while you are sitting still. Either way, the goal is to be conscious of how your body is feeling in the moment without letting your mind wander into the future. Listen to the noises you hear, the sensations in your body. Try it for 5 to 10 minutes at a time to get you started.
- Practice Breathing
Breathing techniques are also helpful in relieving anxiety and getting us back into the present. “When we focus on our breathing, the goal and task is to concentrate on each individual breath as it comes, not on our previous breath and not our next breath,” Souflakis says. “Therefore, deep breathing helps us gain control of what our bodies are doing, instead of focusing on what we cannot control.”
Here are some breathing techniques you can try.
- Limit Your Time Spent Listening To or Watching the News
Watching the news may seem very important right now, given all of the uncertainty in the world, but in fact, consuming too much news may be hurting your mental health. “When we spend a lot of time on media consumption, this creates overwhelming feelings of overload, stress and most of all confusion and ambiguity,” Souflakis says.
So how much is too much? Aditi Nerurkar, MD, MPH, an integrative medicine physician at Harvard Medical School, says you should limit yourself to one hour of news consumption a day, but not all at one sitting.
- Practice Gratitude
With so many negative things happening in the world, it can seem hard to focus on gratitude, but Souflakis says taking the time to think about what you’re grateful for can have a big impact on your mental health. “Gratitude not only uplifts our moods, but it releases neurotransmitters associated with enhanced well-being, like serotonin and dopamine,” she says.
For example, Souflakis suggests trying to think about all of the positive sides of having to shelter-in-place. “The hectic schedules, the traffic, the deadlines, the extra-curricular activities, the social obligations have significantly decreased and are bringing us back in tune with our families and ourselves,” she says.