By Laura Webb, VP and Chief Nursing Officer
COVID-19 has cut us adrift in a sea of uncertainty: Will I have a job six months from now? Will I or my loved ones get sick? How should I educate my kids? These incessant worries can do a number on our mental health. In fact, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report in August 2020 that found during the pandemic, U.S. adults reported considerably elevated rates of symptoms consistent with mental health conditions. Overall, 40% of respondents reported at least one mental health concern or condition, such as anxiety, depression, or symptoms of a trauma-related disorder.
Given these increased concerns, we should seek out activities and practices that foster mental health and wellness. Here are some things that you can do to improve and maintain your mental health, even in the midst of a pandemic.
The first step for having a healthy mind is working to maintain a healthy body. Eating a balanced diet that fuels your body with the nutrients it needs makes us less vulnerable to stronger emotions. Without proper fuel, we are more likely to get irritable, feel down or stressed.
Regular exercise is another key component of great physical health. Exercising for about 20-30 minutes per day has not only been shown to boost your mood, but it also has the power to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Exercise comes in a variety of forms: anything that gets your heart pumping and blood flowing has the power to help your mental health. So go ahead and take advantage of this fall weather—take a brisk walk, go for a jog or a bike ride.
It’s also important to make sure that you are taking any medications as prescribed. If your physical health is off, your mental health is likely to follow. Even substances like caffeine can powerfully impact your mood. Be aware of what goes in your body and how it affects you.
Where you spend your time impacts your frame of mind. And all of us have different requirements for which type of environment suits us best. Some may prefer the noise and busyness of a full house, while others gravitate toward quiet, more peaceful settings. Whatever your preference, be proactive about maintaining an environment that helps you reduce stress and worry.
During COVID, our social interactions have been limited due to social distancing requirements. Still, it’s important to make an effort to seek out social connections. Set up get-togethers on meeting platforms with friends and family. Make the most of the social interactions you do have, such as stopping to chat with neighbors when out for a walk, or simply making eye contact and smiling. And be sure to leave your house at least once per day, even if it’s just to sit on your front stoop to get some fresh air.
Maintaining relationships with the people you care about is an essential part of safeguarding your mental health. They are the ones most likely to notice when you’re not yourself. They know best what to say or do to encourage you when you’re down, or prod you to seek professional help should you ever need it. Make an effort to connect with the people in your life with whom you have meaningful, trusted connections.
Finally, practice these tips every day! Create habits that become second nature. For example, if you want to create stronger connections and more frequent daily interactions with your loved ones, set a goal to do so. Make it “SMART”: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. Instead of saying, “I’m going to spend more time with family,” say, “I’m going to call my parents once each day and talk to them for at least five minutes before the day is over.”
Like any new skill, working to maintain a healthy mind and body takes practice. Mindfulness is another strategy to practice those goals and foster your mental health.
Finally, please keep in mind that some mental health concerns are best managed with the help of a mental health professional. Don’t be afraid to reach out and seek help. And thankfully, people have greater access to professional treatment due to telehealth. Through virtual appointments, telehealth providers can close the distance between themselves and their patients, promoting greater access to those who struggle with receiving quality health care.
It’s easy to see how the events of the last several months could exacerbate existing mental health conditions or create new concerns. Be proactive in preserving your own mental health. And if you feel your mental health unraveling, please seek help.