Staying Mentally Healthy During the Coronavirus Pandemic
This is Mental Health Month. This May, perhaps more than any other in our lifetimes, we’re aware of the precarious nature of our emotional well-being. Federal agencies and mental health advocates/experts fear that daily inundation with illness/death tolls, isolation and a pervasive sense of fear will create a tsunami of psychological trauma.
A recent article in the Washington Post quoted Susan Borja, who leads the traumatic stress research program at the National Institute of Mental Health. Borja, like others, worries that the United States’ mental-health system—underfunded and unprepared in the best of times—will struggle mightily in the coming months and years to combat the damage being wrought.
Despite the challenges, however, optimism and hope can overcome. We are all in this together. When we harness the strength of our individual and collective good, we can still come out of this mentally strong and safe. Here at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we’re always right there with you.
Self Care First
You can’t help others if you’re not well yourself, and that pertains to mental as well as physical health. The Centers for Disease Control names five critical actions to keep top of mind for maximum self-care. Memorize the first letters of each—PTMRS—to remind yourself of what you can do right now to combat stress.
- Pause. Breathe. Notice how you feel.
- Take breaks from COVID-19-related news and social media.
- Make time to sleep and exercise.
- Reach out and stay connected, by phone, text or video chats.
- Seek help if you feel overwhelmed or unsafe.
All those things can seem especially tough when you’re social distancing and feel stuck at home. From sleep and nutrition to meditation and kindness, here are 20 self-care tips to practice during isolation and 12 self-care tips to live by if you work at home.
Support and Crisis Hotlines
First and foremost, know that if you feel tapped out or despairing, help is a phone call or text away. Print out these numbers and post them on your refrigerator; put some of them in your phone contact list. You never know when you or someone you love might reach a breaking point with stress, anxiety or other emotional issue. Having help instantly at hand can make all the difference. (If you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, always call 911 first.)
These resources offer free, confidential support and counseling, and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Many offer multilingual services.
- North Texas Behavioral Health Authority COVID-19 mental-health support line, 1-833-251-7544, or crisis hotline, 1-866-260-8000.
- Texas Health and Human Services statewide COVID-19 Mental Health Support Line, 1-833-986-1919.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
- National Institute of Mental Health’s crisis text hotline; text HELLO to 741741.
- Veterans Crisis Hotline, 1-800-273-8255 or text 828255. Available to all veterans, regardless they’re registered with the VA or enrolled in VA healthcare.
Resources for Parents
Kids are experiencing many of the same the same fears and anxieties as adults, and likely feel even more helpless. Prioritize giving children the love and attention needed to calm them and resolve their fears. Explain the situation as honestly as you can, and model healthy responses, such as self-care, to stress and anxiety.
- Susan Hoff, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ Chief Impact and Strategy Officer—and an expert in early education and childhood development—chatted with radio station KRLD-AM about How to Talk to Your Kids About Coronavirus.
- The Child Mind Institute also has helpful information on talking to children about the pandemic and their fears.
- This article from the National Association of School Psychologists is a great resource for difficult conversations—and includes additional tips on managing fears and anxiety.
- Girl Scouts provides information on talking to your girl about coronavirus, and Boy Scouts of America offers several resources for Scouting families.
For additional parenting tips and resources to help you navigate the “new normal,” check out our Parenting During Coronavirus post.
These tips from Mental Health First Aid can help you support those around you who might feel overwhelmed, stressed, depressed or anxious:
- Assess for risk of suicide or harm. Identify if they’re experiencing a crisis such as a panic attack or suicidal thoughts, and address that first. It’s OK to do the assessment over the phone, text or social media. If the person’s life is in immediate danger, call 911.
- Listen without judgment. If the person isn’t in immediate crisis, ask how they’re feeling and how long they’ve been feeling that way. Pay attention and show you care.
- Give reassurance and information. Your support can have a huge impact on the person. Reassure them that it is appropriate to experience fear, sadness or anxiety during situations like this. Remind them that help is available, and you’ll be there for them along the way.
- Encourage appropriate professional help. Offer to help them find a professional for support, such as a primary-care physician, mental-health professional or certified peer specialist. Behavioral health-care providers can provide services by phone and/or secure videoconferencing, so everyone can maintain physical distancing.
- Talk to them about self-help strategies and how to reach out for support from family, friends, faith communities and others who have experienced depression or anxiety.
Before this is over, it’s almost certain that someone you care about will have come down with COVID-19. Social distancing, although required for everyone’s safety, has brought a new, excruciating level to grief: How do you care for a sick friend when you can’t get closer than the other side of a window, if that? How do you mourn a grandparent who’s passed when you can’t have a funeral or memorial service?
We’re also feeling grief over the loss of life as we knew it—comforting routines; the simple joy of coffee out with a friend; long-planned celebrations for birthdays, anniversaries or graduations that have been postponed or canceled.
Here are some resources to help with grief, whether it’s for a sick or deceased loved one, or simply for the loss of our previous lives.
- Carson’s Village, a United Way Social Innovation Accelerator fellow, is helping families who are dealing with loss find new ways to grieve during this time. Their comprehensive bereavement services, offered at no cost for low-income families, are designed to help manage this overwhelming process and heal in a healthy way.
- Pathways Center for Grief & Loss lists extensive grief resources such as videos, articles and links to websites.
- Check out the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s tips for coping with grief during a disaster or traumatic event.
Some of the best ways to combat mental fatigue and stress involve simply taking action—whether that’s in the form of exercise (and that includes making your bed and doing a load of laundry), creative endeavors or indulging in mindless entertainment.
- Instead of focusing solely on what’s wrong in your life, make an actual, physical list of what’s right: The sun is shining, and it’s a beautiful North Texas spring day. Or, those storm clouds sure are gorgeous. The kids aren’t arguing.
- Think about a time before this when you thought everything was going wrong—and then think about the good that came out of that situation. This crisis will also eventually wane, and you’ll probably find that it transformed your life in both bad and good ways. This could be positively life-changing.
- Practice your favorite hobby that you’ve never had time for before. Knit tiny blankets for your guinea pig, plant flowers, play music or sing (Badly! It feels so good!), paint flat rocks to make paperweight gifts for loved ones. Creativity in action begets mental wellness.
- Start a coronavirus diary for future generations, and don’t forget to include the silly, fun parts. “Today I put on earrings for the first time in two months, and found that my ear holes had grown back together.” “This afternoon we serenaded the dogs with the entire score of ‘Hamilton.’ Dog score: 2 out of 10, not enough canine action.”
- If you don’t feel like making art, go look at some. Museums worldwide have made tours and galleries accessible online; immersing yourself in paintings and objects that have withstood the ages will put these few months into a longer-term perspective. Here’s a starter course of 12 famous museums offering virtual “couch tours.” Also, browse our post on How to Keep Your Kids’ Minds Active and Engaged at Home (a lot of these tips work for adults just as well).
Finally, check out our tip sheet on overall physical and mental health during the coronavirus crisis.