Coronavirus: How to manage stress and anxiety while at home for long periods of time
We connected with a psychologist to find out how one can manage his/her mental health during this overwhelming time. Here are some tips to follow if you might be struggling during the coronavirus outbreak.
Social connection is so important for mental health as well as our environment. Due to the global coronavirus outbreak, we’re currently limited, stuck in one spot, and surrounded by the same faces — i.e. roommates, family, significant others — or hanging by ourselves. This can definitely bring on symptoms of anxiety as well as other mental health challenges such as depression, says Mumbai-based clinical psychologist, Dr Shilpa Aggarwal.
As the country takes action to combat the rapid spread of COVID-19 — the infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus — where you reside is quite literally the home base where you need to stay for your own safety and the safety of others. No matter what your situation is — whether you're working remotely, out of work because of these circumstances, or trying to pass the time with your family and children — being at home can feel isolating, and Dr Aggarwal wants you to know that getting anxious or stressed is normal. "The gist of it is that your regular routine has most likely been disrupted. Plus, this unprecedented time can be extra stressful," she says.
You might not be as involved in activities that are meaningful to you, says Dr Aggarwal. There's less stimulation. "You're seeing the same four walls of your apartment, and you may not have as much social engagement. For some people, there may be significant financial strain if they're not able to work during this time, and they may not have access to the kinds of things that they do to cope, like working out, going to the gym, or visiting a religious place," says Dr Aggarwal. All of this, she says, can affect your mental health. "There are a lot of things that individuals can do to offset the experience of feeling isolated," Dr Aggarwal explains. Everyone can feel the effects of isolation, but if you have a mental illness, isolation can add a significant stressor to what you're already dealing with, she says.
Ahead, you'll find tips from Dr Aggarwal for those experiencing stress or anxiety while being cooped up at home.
Keep a routine
Generally, if you're used to having a structured schedule, it may be hard to cope with the fact that you no longer have that same routine. "Finding things and setting up a structure around the things that keep you going is really critical. If you've got a routine, it keeps you focused on what you need to do, and you don't get stuck in your worries," says Dr Aggarwal, adding that the foundation for a good routine is made up of the following:
• Regular physical activity: try getting some fresh air throughout the day if you can, and check out some home workout inspiration videos online. Here are some meditation videos from YouTube you can follow for stress relief and relaxation.
• Regular sleep schedule: get your normal recommended hours of sleep per night (at least seven).
• Good nutrition: this is pretty self-explanatory. Check out our healthy eating tips here.
• Social support: don't talk about coronavirus with people who make you feel even more anxious about your situation.
• Try a new hobby or activity: You can try pursuing an interest that you've always had and never really considered. Hobbies bring us joy and keep us productive.
"It's especially important for those with a mental illness, such as bipolar or depression, to keep a routine," says Dr Aggarwal. A schedule helps manage their symptoms. For example, if you struggle with depression, you might not have the energy or motivation to get moving and go about your day, she explains. "Having to stay home during this time can make things even more difficult; that's why trying your best to sustain a schedule despite the circumstances is important," says Dr Aggarwal.
Stay connected with family and friends virtually
"People who really want social contact and don't have a lot of it because they live alone, because they're not able to interact with coworkers, or whatever it is that they might be doing, it may feel particularly stressful," Dr Aggarwal says of our current situation. Her suggestions? Take advantage of technology. Even if you're practising physical distancing from your peers, that doesn't mean it has to be actual social distancing, too. Set up a coffee date with your friends via Skype or FaceTime. Reach out to family and friends who might be more isolated and aren't as comfortable with laptops or phones. "You can still find ways to stay connected to the world and your loved ones. That's why some mental health professionals are using the phrase 'physical distancing.' You can still have a social life, just not in the traditional sense," says Dr Aggarwal.
Support your community
"When we remember that we're all in this together and that we're doing this for an important reason — we're trying to reduce the overall community risk — that does help one feel better about the situation," Dr Aggarwal says of coronavirus. You can also, she says, give back during this time by donating to local organizations that will provide some utility support for people who can't work right now. Another idea? Buy medicines or grocery for a neighbour who shouldn't be going out. "Doing those kinds of things that help us feel like we're making a positive difference really helps with our overall well-being," Dr Aggarwal notes.
Reach out to a mental health professional
If you already have ongoing therapy sessions, Dr Aggarwal says to keep those consistent. Many therapists have started offering teletherapy via phone or video, so reach out to see if this is available for you, she says. And lastly, feeling anxious about anything related to coronavirus? Check out these World Health Organisation-approved tips for how to cope.