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Mental Health Tips During COVID-19

Such times require extra attention to healthy practices that equip us to be at our best. When we are healthy mentally and physically we are able to help ourselves and others more fully.

The Hope Network psychology department wants to help, so we will be releasing some tips and strategies that you can use to keep your own mental health on track. Take a few moments and practice some of these strategies.

 

During this challenging time, one simple thing we can do for ourselves is breathe. Here’s a tip to help relieve some tension:

Here’s a suggestion to keep your sympathetic nervous system (think fight or flight) from running the show: Breathe. Make an effort to engage in long inhales followed by twice as long exhales. Breathe in 1 – 2 – 3, breathe out 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6.

Do this through your nose. Our brain interprets nose breathing as calm.

While you are breathing pay attention to where you are holding tension.

1) Where is your tongue? Is it glued to the roof of your mouth? Allow your tongue to settle into the bottom of your mouth – open your mouth and unhinge your jaw.

2) Where are your shoulders? Do you look like Frankenstein or like an angel? Make your shoulders look like an angel.

3) What are your hands doing? Are they clenched? If they are, pretend you are holding a beautiful butterfly in between your fingers. Don’t crush your butterfly.

4) Keep moving through your body to find your favorite tension spots and give them permission to release. They will often respond to your breath work.

During this time, it can feel like life is suspended over quicksand. We put this exercise together to help you feel grounded:

  • Make a statement that your brain cannot refute. You might start with “My name is _____.” By doing this, you are ANCHORING your brain to what it knows and allowing it to find a safe spot. It knows this statement with 100% certainty.
  • Once you anchor to the 100% certainty, you move out one ring. Give your brain a statement that it knows with almost 100% certainty.
  • Once you anchor there, you move out another ring, until you are into that area of statement that you are not as sure about its certainty. These statements all need to be positive or neutral items.The goal is to provide SOLID footing under you.

Are you feeling anxious? Angry? Fearful? Here’s a mental health tip: You might consider finding a debriefing buddy who can relate. Then, let your thoughts and feelings flow through you like a pane of glass, rather than having them stick to you like flypaper.

Call someone, or set up a virtual video call, and allow yourself some time to debrief.

Usually, being distracted is considered a bad thing. But in the midst of a crisis like the one we’re in, we all need healthy distractions. Consider these:

Activities – Engage in an activity that requires thought. A puzzle is a great one, or a board game. You can also find different activities online that challenge your mind and take it off everything else, even for a little while.

Sensations – Find a safe physical sensation to distract you from intense negative emotions. Feel the cool breeze outside. Stretch your body. Take a shower. Etc.

Pushing Away – Push the negative thoughts out of your mind. Imagine writing them on a piece of paper and throwing the paper into a river. Watch them float away.

During this challenging time, it’s easy to default to negative ways of thinking. A good way to foster positivity is to reframe our thoughts.

From: I’m stuck at home.
To: I’m safe at home.

From: Everything is shutting down.
To: Hospitals and grocery stores are staying open.

This simple exercise of reframing helps put our minds more at ease, and protects our mental health from spinning out of control.

Mindfulness is the state of being fully present in the moment – the opposite of mindlessness. When we are mindful, we can assess our circumstances and act in ways that are safe and responsible. This is especially important during a crisis like the one our world is currently in.

Simple exercises can make a big difference with limited effort. Try this brief “reset” exercise:

  • Name 5 things you can see.
  • Name 4 things you can touch.
  • Name 3 things you can hear.
  • Name 2 things you can smell.
  • Name 1 thing you can taste.
  • Fill your lungs to the bottom, breathe out slowly against pursed lips.
  • Resume the tasks before you.

Why smile when things are hard? The reason is more scientific than you’d think.

“Mirror Neurons” in the brain compel us to mimic things we see around us—feeling the urge to smile when others smile, for example.

James Taylor sang, “Whenever I see your smiling face, I have to smile myself.” It is just neurology.

When we smile, and activate our facial muscles, it releases emotions that we label as happy or joyful.

And couldn’t we all use more emotions like that?

Sheltering in place for COVID-19 does not mean barricading in the basement. This is not a tornado. Get out in the fresh air. Sit on your porch. Call out greetings and smile at people walking by. Being outside can bring out the best of us.

Dealing with anxiety? Nourishing your body can help! You may be surprised to learn that certain nutrients in foods have been shown to reduce anxiety, and even help release serotonin and dopamine. We all want to feel as good as we can during these times of uncertainty, so here are some healthy eating tips, right from the CDC:

Add healthy fats.
Not all fats are bad. Foods with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are important for your brain and heart.

Cut the sodium.
Good nutrition is about balance, and that means not getting too much of certain ingredients, such as sodium (salt).

Bump up the fiber.
Fiber in your diet not only keeps you regular, it also helps you feel fuller longer.

Aim for a variety of colors on your plate.
Foods like dark, leafy greens, oranges, and tomatoes—even fresh herbs—are loaded with vitamins, fiber, and minerals.

In these uncertain times, overcoming debilitating anxiety starts with small steps…not giant leaps.

As an example, someone might be so afraid of catching the virus that they do not want to leave their house. For them, going to the supermarket might feel like too big of a step. Simply being out in the yard would be a smaller step, and less anxiety-inducing.

Steps like these can be very precise, such as being in the yard for 1 minute and then gradually moving on—2 minutes, 5 minutes, more.

Bigger steps might be going for a walk up and down the street or going for a short drive—until the idea of shopping for food is more realistic.

When things are stressful, it’s difficult to see the positive in the midst of all the negative. But having a sense of gratitude can really impact your overall well-being for the better.

There’s been multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. And research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and decreases depression.

So, what can you do? Here’s an exercise:

Track gratitude and achievement with a journal. Include 3 things you were grateful for and 3 things you were able to accomplish each day.

Doing this is simple, quick, and can have a real impact.

It’s important to take the crisis we’re in seriously. But laughter is an effective way to relieve anxiousness and stress.

Laughter draws you closer to others, which can have a profound effect on all aspects of your mental and emotional health.

And laughter can relax the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.

Feeling overwhelmed by electronics and news on social media lately? Consider adding an electronics-free time period to your day.

Taking time to unplug and disconnect from the constant stream of news and alerts will give your brain a break, and shield you from their negative effects on your mental health.

Don’t feel the pressure to be productive at the expense of your mental health.

These aren’t normal times, which means you don’t have to get things done like you normally would.

Use this time to rest and recharge when you can, instead of depleting your energy and sanity.

While social distancing is still in effect, here’s an underrated mental health tip: Maintain a routine.

In addition to sticking to a regular bedtime routine, keep consistent times for meals, bathing, getting dressed, work or study schedules, and exercise.

This predictability can make you feel more in control.

With all the changes happening in our world today, it’s most likely we are all in different stages. Some people are angry. Some are in denial. Some are sad. No matter what stage you are in, or what stage the person next to you is in, remember that we are all in this together. If you feel overwhelmed, try to find some balance. Two methods that can help us suffer less emotionally go hand in hand:

1) Radical Acceptance: the conscience decision to accept what is. It doesn’t mean we like it, agree with it, or are happy about it. It is just that we accept the state of things right now.

2) Mental Flexibility: the ability to go with the flow. In trying times, we like to have hard facts to hang onto – however the directions, standards and protocols continue to morph and we learn lessons.

We don’t get the option to not suffer at all, but we can suffer less. Observe your emotions but don’t judge them. If we simply try our best in this stressful time we will learn, help, and grow. One day at a time.

With life being so shaken up right now, you can protect your mental health by being compassionate with yourself.

Moments of feeling overwhelmed often come with big thoughts, such as “I cannot do this,” or “This is too hard.”

There is a lot we cannot control right now. But how we talk to ourselves can either provide a powerful buffer or amplify our distress.

Remember, we cannot be our best selves all the time. So show yourself compassion.

Honesty is important during this COVID-19 crisis, especially if you have kids.

Be factual. Be responsive. Answer questions when they’re asked.

If your child asks about something and you don’t know the answer, say so. Speak calmly and reassuringly. And give kids space to share their fears.

What isn’t helpful is panic.

During this crisis and the challenges it brings, hope is a powerful force for our mental health. And if you look around, you’ll find plenty of reasons to have it.

Communities rising up and supporting each other.

Neighbors putting “thank you” messages and uplifting artwork in their windows.

Local businesses making hand sanitizer, masks, and other protective equipment.

And much, much more.

What have you seen in the last few weeks that has brought you hope?

Boundaries are an essential part of coping with anxiety and highly stressful situations. With each passing day, we are overwhelmed with media coverage, opinions from loved ones, to-do lists, and the need to remain socially connected. Now more than ever, boundaries are necessary for our emotional well-being.

How can this happen? It starts by recognizing your needs and communicating them clearly.

Examples of boundary setting during COVID-19:

“It is not helpful for me to talk about coronavirus right now.

“I need space to feel my emotions right now.”

“I respect your opinion, but I am still collecting my thoughts on the situation at hand.”

“I am inspired by your motivation and productivity, but I am prioritizing rest at the moment.”

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and anxious right now, set some fresh boundaries and see if that helps.

When the days feel long, and moments become challenging, remember that millions of people are in this together. You may be isolated, but you are far from alone. Use this as a reminder when anxiousness or stress take hold.

A good mental health exercise right now is… well… exercise!

Exercise releases chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that improve your mood. If you move regularly, it can reduce your stress and symptoms of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, and help with recovery from mental health issues.

Need a way to get moving? Check out the Groove! It’s a 4-week dance competition made for West Michigan, by West Michigan. Learn more at thegrooveapp.com.

In order to protect your mental and emotional health, give yourself permission…

To parent a little differently.

To feel sad that your vacation got cancelled.

To eat a snack without guilt.

Give yourself a little more grace than you’re used to. It could protect your mental health in the long-run.

 

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