10 Tips to Improve Mental Health During COVID-19
by Jean Ince, Howard County| Adapted for Blog: Pamela Luker, Pope County
Life has become challenging during the Covid-19 pandemic. Not being able to see your family, visit with friends and co-workers on a daily basis is stressful. You may be feeling overwhelmed or out of sorts. Guess what? This is a perfectly normal reaction. We all feel stressed from time to time. You may not have given a lot of thought to taking care of yourself while you are trying to meet the needs of others. However, it is so important, especially now as we are having to deal with many new challenges. Let’s look at some ways you can help improve your mental health.
- Socialization. Research shows that loneliness is a bigger predictor of health problems in later life. More so than poor diet, smoking, or lack of exercise. Look for ways to interact with others. While this may be challenging in today’s world, it can be a huge boost to your mental health. Visiting face-to-face or in social settings may not be possible. However, Facetime, Zoom and just plain old picking up the phone and calling a friend can help keep you connected. Call on those people who you enjoy being around and those that bring you up. These are those people who make us feel better. If possible, avoid those “Debby Downers”. Socialization boosts your endorphins and help you to feel good.
- Mindfullness/Meditation. We practice mindfulness through meditation, deep breathing, or other practices that allow you to focus on and appreciate “the moment”. There are many free apps that help with meditation. Breethe, ibreathe, or calm are a few free ones you might want to check out. Start with short periods of mindfulness to train yourself and then increase the time as needed.
- Exercise. Daily exercise boosts endorphins that help improve your mood and overall wellness. Any exercise can work. Join Extension Get Fit, Walk Across Arkansas, or even gardening will work.
- Healthy Diet. You’ve heard it before but eating right is a major key to overall health, including mental health. If you sometimes have difficulty with mood swings, it may be worthwhile to pay attention to diet triggers like sugar, alcohol, or caffeine. Sometimes nutrients may be missing from your diet that affect your mood and energy level such as not enough protein or carbohydrates. Keep a log of the foods you eat over a period of three to four days. This can help you see what improvements you need to make. You may notice a pattern.
- Practice Gratitude. Studies show that taking time each day to intentionally think about the people, things, places and experiences in our lives can have real mental health benefits. Keep a journal or get up every morning and mentally list your blessings. Being thankful for what we have improves relationships, sleep and our overall well-being.
- Laugh. How often do you laugh? During stressful times, it may be hard to find humor. But there really is truth in the phrase, “laughter is the best medicine”. Laughter releases dopamine which is our brain’s feel good chemical. So, let me encourage you to find ways to laugh every day!
- Enjoy Music. Listening to upbeat music can boost your mood. However, not all music can be effective in reducing stress. Some may even cause stress. Think about the music that is played at the doctor’s office. What would happen if they were tuned in to the “heavy metal” channel? Chances are it wouldn’t calm you.
- Set Boundaries. . Boundaries are important tools for healthy relationships. They allow you to connect with those in your life in ways that are comfortable and safe. You may need boundaries with your children, your spouse, your parents or those you work with. Boundaries should be flexible and may need to change over time to accommodate changing relationships. Check out this "Setting Boundaries" worksheet. Setting Boundaries
- Positive Self-Talk. Often, we focus on the negatives in ourselves. What does this do for our mental health? It brings us down. When we have negative thoughts, push back against them. Many times we put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect. When this happens, Stop and ask yourself, “Is this line of thinking fair or logical?” Chances are no it isn’t! We are not always in control of our circumstances. Covid-19 proves that point.
Even if some of these tips work for a short period of time, you may need to seek the counsel of a mental health professional. Therapists listen and can offer coping strategies from a neutral perspective. Where you may struggle to identify spots in your life that are causing stress, they may be able to reframe a relationship or experience and help you understand its impact. This is especially true if you are dealing with trauma, grief, or life changes. A therapist can be a wonderful resource.