Mental health during COVID-19: Practical care for our wellbeing

Mental health during COVID-19: Practical care for our wellbeing

by Carlos A. Vázquez   |   April 22, 2020   |     7 min read

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes to our life routine and, combined with social distancing, have made all these changes more difficult to overcome. By itself, it is difficult to deal with the uncertainty, financial pressures, and stress of contracting the disease, and now we have to add up the overload of information, rumors, and disinformation. Thus, you must pay special attention to your mental health in times like these.

Each one reacts differently to stressful situations, but particularly during the outbreak of an infectious disease such as the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) reactions may include:

  • Fear and concern for your health and the health of your loved ones
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Aggravation of chronic health problems
  • Aggravation of mental health problems
  • Increased consumption of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs

On the other hand, many professionals are working remotely full time for the first time. They may feel isolated from your coworkers, friends, and family. Naturally, this interruption of our habits causes an increase in anxiety and stress, even in people who were not so susceptible.

Fortunately, governmentsorganizations, and international health institutions have developed resources that can help us cope with stress and maintain our mental health during this Covid-19 pandemic.

For example, WHO has worked with partners to develop a set of new materials on the mental health and psychosocial support aspects of COVID-19, like this infographic:

mental health infographic

Mental health working remotely during COVID-19

These are practical tips to take care of your mental health and wellbeing as you adapt to working remotely during the Covid-19.

Keep a regular schedule

Create and maintain a routine and schedule. Set a designated space for work. Don’t forget to include periodic breaks to recharge. Although each person’s plan will be different, here is a sample of how you could organize your day:

  • 6:30 am – Wake up, stretch, attend to the children/animals
  • 7:00 am – Eat breakfast and spend time with the family or some personal activity
  • 9:00 am – Work and check for updates with short breaks every 30 minutes or so
  • Noon – Have lunch, get some fresh air, stretch and do some exercise
  • 2:00 pm – Work with breaks every 30 minutes, interact with coworkers
  • 6:00 pm – Leave the screen, call a friend, family member or loved one
  • 7:00 pm – Dinner and relax with a series or movie on TV
  • 8:00 pm – Time Grooming
  • 10:30 pm – Bedtime

Stay connected with friends, family and loved ones

Stay connected with family, friends, and people who can support you. Use technology like FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangout, Zoom, and other video-based options to see the face of and other people. Talk about your fears and concerns with people you trust. They probably feel the same; this will help you not feel lonely.

Empathize with your coworkers.

Stress and anxiety about the uncertainty we face can be made worse by worries about work and deadlines to meet goals. So, encourage your team members to talk about the challenges they face when working from home and collaborate to find solutions, especially if it’s your first time working remotely. Learn together and remember to be understanding about the situation.

Stay informed without excess.

Knowledge is power, and it’s good to stay up-to-date on progress in fighting the coronavirus. Stay informed about the latest updates from reliable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to avoid misinformation that could cause you anxiety and stress.

Limit Media Consumption

Avoid continuous exposure to news, media, and social media that can trigger or elevate anxiety, stress, or panic. Stay informed by following few authorized media and mainly local and national ones to avoid infoxication (information overload and difficult to process) limiting media consumption.

Set limits on work hours

When you work from home, it can be tempting to work more hours than you should. However, it can also be an aggravation to your physical and mental health and wellbeing, so stick to a schedule with healthy limits to minimize remote burnout.

Be Creative

Share tips with your coworkers and friends about what works well for you in these circumstances and motivate them to do the same. Brainstorm new ideas, plan a video call to exercise together, talk about books or series. You can also share photos of pets enjoying the new routine. Watch movies at the same time while texting or on Zoom. Heaven is the limit of creative ways to stay connected and positive.

Take care of your body

Let’s keep in mind that our mind and body are very closely connected. Taking care of your body will help your mind feel more relaxed. Let’s remember that our mobility habits have been drastically modified, and that is why we must start there.

Get enough sleep

Go to bed at a consistent time every day, try to maintain your regular sleep schedule. We know this is difficult when you don’t have much activity during your day. Try some breathing and meditation exercises.

Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 sleeping technique:

  1. Sit with your back straight and supported by a backrest.
  2. Place the tip of the tongue just behind the front teeth, where the palate begins.
  3. Close your mouth and inhale the air through your nose for four seconds.
  4. Hold your breath for seven seconds.
  5. Fully exhale the air from your lungs for eight seconds. It is essential to make a loud sound, so this is a noisy exercise, so you may want to ask your partner to do it together, so they don’t get too upset.

Although this exercise is often applied to fall asleep, it can also be done in other situations, such as relaxing in stress or anxiety situations during the day. 

Exercise regularly

During quarantine, we may not move as we used to, and although it may seem that this may result in being better rested, it is quite the opposite. Our body needs to move to release endorphins, also known as happiness hormones, to give you a general feeling of wellbeing while reducing anxiety levels and improving our mood.

There are many apps to exercise at home, such as Freeletics that you can download to your tablet or smartphone and start using immediately.

You can also join the many yoga, pilates, taichi, etc. channels that various trainers are giving out for free during the Covid-19.

Eat healthily

It is very easy to fall into a bad diet when we have limited access to fresh food. However, we can create a balanced and economical diet with essential foods and have a healthy life.

  1. Olive oil: it is one of the healthiest fats that we can find, it provides omega 3s and substances such as carotenes or sterols. It contributes to maintaining healthy blood cholesterol levels.
  2. Vegetables: they contain vitamins and fiber and a lot of water that helps us stay hydrated and with a healthy digestive system.
  3. Fruits: they provide a variety of vitamins and fiber, just like vegetables.
  4. Cereals: They are at the base of the pyramid of healthy eating, which means that they should be part of our daily consumption. They contain fiber, sugars, minerals, B vitamins, and proteins.
  5. Seeds and nuts: walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts, contain vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, vegetable proteins, and calcium.
  6. Legumes: contain carbohydrates, fiber, B vitamins, and minerals, including magnesium, potassium, and iron.

Avoid filling up on junk food and refined sugar. Limit caffeine, as it can exacerbate stress and anxiety.

Avoid tobacco, alcohol, and self-medication.

If you smoke tobacco or vape, you have an increased risk of lung disease. Because COVID-19 affects the lungs, your risk increases further. Remember that smoking also affects the people around you. During confinement, this could aggravate the health status of all members in the home.

Using alcohol to cope with the crisis can make things worse and reduce your adjustment skills.

Also, avoid taking anxiety medications unless your doctor prescribes them.

We are in this together

This pandemic has dramatically changed the way our lives look now and in the future, but we are quickly adapting. We are in this together, and all levels of organizations should seek solutions to assist anyone caught in the crisis and prepare for the post-crisis landscape. If you know someone who is having a difficult time, remind them that help is available. And, above all, that he is not alone. Ask, “Are you okay?” These three words can make a difference to someone who may be having a bad day.

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