Top Strategies To Protect Your Mental Health Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

The need to self-quarantine or self-isolate is becoming more evident, given the continued rise in the number of coronavirus cases in the country. Whether you are worried about getting sick after possible exposure or are actually sick with COVID-19, one thing is for certain: You may be prompted to stay home for two weeks.

Thinking about your weeks-long provisions such as food and medications is worrisome enough, but isolation, lack of schedule and not having enough to do can take a toll on your mood over time, especially when working at home (telecommuting).

With these issues in mind, Claudia W. Allen, director of the Family Stress Clinic, behavioral science director at the University of Virginia's School of Medicine and licensed clinical psychologist, has offered her top strategies to protect your mental health amid the coronavirus pandemic. Here are her tips:

Get Dressed

Just because you have to stay at home for weeks does not mean you can start deviating from your usual daily routine. As you normally do every night, set an alarm for your usual time, and do what you do the next morning: shower, eat breakfast, make your bed, etc. You may skip the work uniform and dress down, but do get dressed. Do not appear with your pajamas on.

Stick To Your Routine When Telecommuting

Set an intentional daily routine. When you are working from home, stick to your usual mealtimes or something similar. When not working, create scheduled times for meals, phone conversations, chores, reading, etc. Write all of your scheduled times down. 

Even if you have few obligations, having different activities done regularly at set times will help you stay balanced. Having a mixed, balanced schedule of obligations and leisures is ideal to keep yourself up mentally.

Allen said that this daily approach is an evidence-based treatment called "behavioral activation" that will also help prevent depression.

Plan Your Week 

Set a weekly schedule as well. Make your weekends slightly different, whether it is something simple like a more elaborate breakfast or more complex like doing a project. A structured, varied schedule will keep you settled but stimulated, both important prerequisites for emotional well-being.

Go Outside

If you are not confined to your house, take daily walks or jogs, preferably in green, leafy areas. Exercise, sunlight and being around trees amp up your mood. If you are holed up inside, try any workout that you can follow online. 

Since quarantine gives you more time to do workout than usual, you can set specific goals that are also measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. For example, you may increase your sit-ups and number of workouts weekly. Exercise does not just have a positive effect on your mood; it is actually a prescribed treatment for mild to moderate depression, so make it a priority on your daily schedule.

Be Intentional With Your Time

Do not procrastinate your way through the weeks. Utilize your extra time very intentionally. Pick at least one thing that you want to learn about or how to do and teach yourself. Plan to come out of the quarantine with a new skill or hobby. Many famous artists and scientists utilize their time at home to develop their curiosity or love for a subject.

So devote an hour of your daily schedule to work on this new skill or hobby, and collect any needed materials for this activity ahead of time if possible.

Use Social Media Wisely

Instead of scrolling through Facebook and Instagram without end, which studies have found to make you feel left out or "less than," try to use social media to meaningfully connect with those you hold dear. For example, you can plan daily or weekly group video chats with friends, family, neighbors or colleagues. Social connection, Allen said, "is one of the most important drivers of well-being."

Be Helpful To Others

Helping others boosts your mood. Be aware of those in your circle who are especially at risk during this time and check on them by phone or mail.

Create Space

Create some space between you and the people you are with. "People quarantined together run the risk of crowding each other and creating irritation. Normally you’re together some of the time, but separated at other times," Allen said. 

This can be replicated at home by intentionally planned "together times" (meals, watching movies) and "separate times" (working, reading), if possible. "Even if you’re quarantined in just one room, plan agreed times when you’re not interacting, as if you were not all in the same room," she said.

Shift Your Mental Space

Mindfulness principles shift your mental stance from frustration to curiosity about the situation. Think like an anthropologist or a journalist observing a social experiment. 

"Keep a journal (written, sketches, or video) of your experience during quarantine – what you did and how you felt day-by-day," Allen said. "Taking on this stance will give you a little distance, which can reduce distress, as well as keep you open to the positive or simply interesting things that may happen during this very unusual experience."

COVID-19 Pandemic Health authorities encourage people with symptoms of COVID-19 to self-isolate for seven days, keep a 2-meter distance from other people at home and to sleep alone. Pixabay