This post was written by Nikta Rezakahn Khajeh, 3rd year medical student at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine.
It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, worry, depression, or grief during the COVID-19 outbreak and self-quarantine period. Everybody reacts differently to a crisis. It is important to recognize your feelings and that they may change over time. Taking care of your emotional health during this time will give your mind the clarity it needs to act quickly if you or your family need help. Here are 10 ways you can fight off worry and redirect your thoughts towards positive ones.
Virtually Connect with Family and Friends
We are fortunate enough to live in an era where we can connect with individuals from all over the world with a simple click of a button. This is a great time to schedule phone and video calls with those you care about. Staying connected through text or call can help get rid of feelings of loneliness.
Hygiene! Hygiene! Hygiene! You will be surprised how much better you will feel after a shower. You might even treat yourself to a face/hair mask, beard trim, or tooth brushing (do this regardless please). When you are feeling down and in a rut during this time, freshening up can help lift your spirits and help motivate you to be productive with your day. I highly encourage getting ready as you normally would in the mornings, getting dressed, having a scheduled breakfast, and starting your day off with intent. It is easy to lose our day’s intention when there is no imminent task at hand needing to be done at home. Creating structure can bring you peace and motivation while also reducing anxiety.
Set a Goal for the Day
Before you go to sleep, maybe while you are brushing your teeth, I want you to think about something you want to accomplish the following day. Whether that is a work assignment, a book chapter, or a cleaning task, set a realistic goal that is specific and attainable to give your day a sense of purpose. A lot of us are facing uncertain circumstances during this time and we feel as though we have minimal control over the situation. Setting a goal can help your mind focus on something achievable that you do have control over. This will give your mind a feeling of peace and help calm anxious thoughts.
We have to do it anyway, so this is the perfect time to start! If you have been needing to clean out some closets, the basement, or the freezer, this is a great time to work on those tasks! Cleaning has been shown to have therapeutic properties and can aid in bringing structure back into your life. Cleaning helps us gain a sense of control over our environment. This activity not only empowers us but occupies our thoughts to help calm our minds. Studies done at the University of California have shown that messy or unclean homes increase cortisol (stress chemical) levels in our bodies making us more stressed than we need to be [1-2]. Vigorous cleaning (like scrubbing the bathtub) is also a great form of physical activity, and helps increase your heart rate and your mood .
This is a wonderful time to channel your creative side! Whether or not art is your thing, this is a great time to get creative with anything and everything! Experiment with new recipes if you like to cook. Try out new home workouts. Create an indoor sport challenge with crumpled up paper and empty bins. Draw, paint, color, write. Whatever it is you are passionate about, let the creative juices flow and do it at home.
Meditation and Mindfulness
You might find it harder to fall asleep at night because you are spending more of your day sedentary with minimal changes to your environment. Something that can help with this is meditation and yoga. For five minutes a day, before you go to sleep, concentrate on your breathing and work on mindful stretching. Focus on stretching the large muscle groups where we store a lot of anxiety and tension (your arms, legs, back, shoulders, and neck). Spending time releasing these tensions and focusing on relaxing those muscles can help alleviate anxiety and help you fall asleep faster.
I cannot emphasize gratitude enough! With so much negativity and uncertainty in the air, it is easy to feel lost and hopeless about the future. Every day, find three things you are grateful for. It might be your running water, the food in your cabinet, your pets, or your children. Find three things that you are grateful for and focus your energy on those things throughout the day. For an extra reminder, write them on a sticky note and put them up on your wall! This will help redirect your thoughts towards more positive ones.
Fresh air does wonders for the mind, especially now that the weather is warming up. If your environment permits, this is a great time to go for a walk around the neighborhood, check the mail, maybe even take the trash out (this is possibly the only time this sounds appealing). If circumstances do not allow for this, open a couple of windows in your home to feel the breeze. Going for a drive around the area with your windows rolled down is a great option as well. These are all great ways to change your scenery while also practicing social distancing. Make it a priority to take in fresh air at least once a day.
Whether you considered yourself active prior to self-quarantine or not, we all have at least minimal activity levels in our normal day-to-day lives whether walking to our cars, going to the bathroom, or heading up some stairs. Now that we are spending most of our time home, it can get frustrating not being able to move around as much in such limited space. Depending on your level of physical activity, it is beneficial to get your body moving at least for half an hour each day. This can be split up into five-minute increments that you spread throughout the day. It can be anything as simple as walking up and down your apartment stairs to as vigorous as jump roping or doing High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Increasing your heart rate aids in circulation and can help alleviate a depressed mood.
Above all else, if you have a need for additional help, there are plenty of online resources I will share below to help get through this difficult time. Anxiety and depression can be overwhelming, and should not have to be battled alone.
To learn more ways to take care of your emotional health or how to manage anxiety and depression during this time, we recommend visiting CDC.gov (links below).
Coping with a disaster or traumatic event: https://emergency.cdc.gov/coping/selfcare.asp
Mental Health and Coping during COVID-19 Outbreak: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fabout%2Fcoping.html
Additional Crisis Resources:
Common Ground 1-800-231-1127
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE (1800-784-2433)
Crisis Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
The Trevor Lifeline: 1-866-488-73869
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Disaster Distress Hotline: 1-800-985-5990