woman with mask looking out window

We are living in truly unprecedented times; with widespread layoffs, homeschooling kids, and the closing of public life still halting much of the US economy, it can be a lot to handle. People are struggling emotionally, as family ties are strained, budgets are tightened, and social distancing proves to be anything but life-affirming. Currently, people are experiencing some of most stressful events life can throw their way, often without the closeness of friends and family.

Learning how to take care of one’s mental health during this time can make all the difference. Read more to try out some of the best ways to take care of your mental health during COVID:

  1. Stay Connected with Family and Friends – Social isolation, over long periods of time, is very detrimental to mental health, and keeping in close(ish) contact with your loved ones is very important, especially if you live alone. Stay connected through phone calls, FaceTime or Skype sessions, texts, or even good old fashioned letter writing. Reach out and let someone know you’re thinking of them; it will make you both feel better and more grounded.
  2. Move Your Body – Moving your body for even 30 minutes a day, most days of the week, will spike endorphins and improve your mood. Try activities like walking, jogging, biking, or a YouTube cardio class to get out of your headspace each day. Not only will this help you manage stress, but it will help lower your blood pressure, manage your weight, and get your blood pumping for a heart-healthy habit that doesn’t take much time each day.
  3. Find an Outlet for Stress – Worrying about factors that you cannot control will only increase anxiety. If you can find an outlet for your stress, in the form of meditation or yoga, you can cultivate a space for some peace of mind. If a moving meditation like yoga doesn’t do it for you, try reading a fantasy novel, journaling, painting, or organizing and cleaning out your closets — all excellent ways to control stress and distract yourself.
  4. Unplug – Being tuned into the news for a long time each and every day isn’t healthy for anyone. It’s great to be informed, but watching CNN or reading the NYTimes for 7 hours straight isn’t helpful. Find time to unplug (from the phone, computer, and/or television), and go outside for some time each day. Sit in the sun, and breathe in the fresh air. I promise you, you won’t miss much.
  5. Find Small Joys – There’s a lot to be scared about right now, but if you can focus on finding small joys every day–maybe your dog learning a new trick, savoring your first cup of morning coffee, or growing an herb garden from seed–you’ll always find something to celebrate. There’s joy every day, sometimes it’s just harder to find.
  6. Reach Out for Help – Losing your job and income is a reality for many right now. Know that it’s okay to reach out for help when you need it. Food insecurity is very stressful for families, but applying for food assistance (and even getting free meals from local schools) can make a huge difference. See if you qualify for Medicaid (or your children for CHIP) if you’ve recently lost your health insurance, and talk with your landlord about delaying rent due dates. Work with your utility companies or car insurance agents on getting a lower rate for the remainder of 2020. People are here to help you, sometimes all you have to do is ask.
  7. Eat Healthy Foods – Many people have a complicated relationship with food, and stressful situations exacerbate that (binge/purging or skipping meals when stressed is very common). Maintaining a healthy diet, and filling your plate with nutritious fruits and vegetables can calm the immune-response in the body, and keep you healthy long term. Aim for 5-9 (or more!) fresh fruits and veggies per day, to prevent health complications, experts advise.
  8. Manage Your Chronic Conditions – If you suffer from any number of chronic conditions, such as diabetes, lupus, MS, asthma, hypertension, arthritis or Crohn’s disease, make sure you’re taking your medications as scheduled, keeping up with your appointments (most insurance plans cover telehealth!), refilling your prescriptions, and doing your very best to manage any complications you may have. Not adequately taking care of yourself, especially when you have a chronic condition, can snowball and make you feel even worse. Be proactive about your health now, and it will pay dividends in the future.
  9. Try and Sleep More – Many people are having trouble sleeping right now, and that’s completely understandable, given everything going on in the world. When thoughts spiral and keep us up at night, it bleeds into the next day, and can in turn make us feel discombobulated and mentally stressed for days on end. Try and cultivate an evening routine–be it a bath after dinner, quiet reading in bed, no screens for an hour before “lights out”, or a warm cup of tea. Once one of these activities becomes a habit, it will signal to your brain that the day is over and it’s time for rest. Additionally, foods that naturally contain melatonin, such as cherries, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pomegranate, grapes, or peanuts, are a great snack that will also help you get your zzzs.
  10. Act the Way You Want to Feel – Sometimes, if you don’t want to be stressed out, you just have to act NOT stressed out! Even if you don’t feel like it: Act happy, smile, dance around in your kitchen to your favorite music, make your favorite breakfast food, and set the intention that you will have an excellent day. Intention can go a long way to feeling better. Remind yourself that this stressful state of the world, and COVID-19, won’t last forever. Remember: This too shall pass.

How have you been managing your stress during the COVID-19 pandemic? What are some strategies or tactics that have helped you cope?