Finding ways to cope, manage stress, and thrive during periods of anxiety, especially during an infectious disease outbreak, are important elements when maintaining your mental health. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), stress during these periods can include:
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Increased alcohol, tobacco, or drug use
Some standard stressors and concerns that may be exacerbated during an outbreak can include:
- Job security for yourself and/or loved ones
- Ability to pay bills
- Having to be quarantined
- Maintaining physical distance from high-risk family and friends
The NIMH recommends several ways to support yourself both in the current COVID-19 situation and in other situations of increased unease.
- Take breaks from the 24-hour news cycle. Choose times during the day or week when you turn off the TV or computer, close social media feeds, and stop checking your phone. Give yourself a break to think about and focus on other things.
- Take care of your body. Take some deep breaths, meditate, stretch, get some fresh air, or go for a walk. Try to eat regular, well-balanced meals; get some physical activity every day; give yourself time to get a full night’s sleep; and avoid alcohol and drugs.
- Make time to unwind. Set boundaries for yourself, especially if you are working from home. Try to engage in activities and hobbies you enjoy. Doing something you love will create an outlet for pleasure, joy, fun, and creativity.
- Connect with others. Remember to reach out to friends, family, and coworkers. When you can’t see them in person, digital tools can help keep you connected. Talk about your concerns and feelings with people you trust.
- Set goals and priorities. Decide what must get done today and what can wait. Your priorities may shift to reflect schedule changes or routines, and that is okay. Recognize your accomplishments at the end of the day.
- Focus on the facts. In many stressful situations, it’s easy to believe the hype, get caught up in unnecessary gossip, and overthink about things that may not necessarily be true. Remember to seek out facts from reliable sources about a given situation. Understanding the actual risk to yourself and others can relieve some of the stress.
Visit the NIMH website for more information on maintaining mental health.
Some companies offer an employee assistance program (EAP) to help employees with their mental health needs. The EAP usually provides short-term, confidential counseling sessions for employees and their spouses/significant others and dependent children under 26. All discussions are kept confidential. EAP counselors are experienced, certified/licensed professionals who hold master’s degrees in counseling or related field. Check with your employer to find out more information.
Digital Mental Health Options
There are more than 10,000 mental health apps available. These apps are designed to boost moods, promote deeper sleep, manage addiction, encourage weight maintenance/loss, offer meditation, and more. Visit your favorite app store and see if there’s one that interests you.
Where to Find Support
- In an emergency, call 911
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline – (800) 950-6264 (M-F, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET)
- In a crisis, text “NAMI” to 741741 for 24/7, confidential, free crisis counseling
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – (800) 273-8255
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Disaster Distress Helpline – (800) 985-5990
- Text “TalkWithUs” to 66746
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with preexisting mental health conditions should continue their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms. Be sure to check your state’s mental health resources for local phone numbers, websites, professionals, and services.