How to Maintain Your Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic is upending life as we know it, including our routines, relationships and overall sense of well-being, and many people are struggling with the stress and anxiety these changes have caused.
It’s important to remember that you are not alone; this is a global issue, and the feelings you are experiencing are normal and shared by many others. As important as it is to recognize stress and anxiety, it’s also imperative to manage these feelings and actively work toward taking care of your mental health.
Research suggests long-term stress can have a negative impact on the brain. When chronic stress causes our brains to remain in a fight or flight state, we can experience a host of negative effects on both our brains and bodies. In fact, research suggests continuous stress can result in structural changes in the brain and loss of brain mass. More specifically it can cause1:
- Long-term effects on the nervous system impairing cognitive function, memory and learning
- Increased susceptibility to illness and disease as the immune system (via the nervous and neuroendocrine systems) is compromised
- Negative effects on the cardiovascular system such as increased heart rate, blood pressure and risk of heart disease
- Negative effects on appetite and gastrointestinal functions, including increased risk of GI inflammatory diseases
How do I actively manage my mental health?
There are many different ways to cope with stress and manage your mental health, with varying needs for different individuals. For example, those who already suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or other brain diseases requiring more support, may need to proactively protect their brain health. Below are resources to help you maintain your mental health and brain health during this challenging time.
Tips for maintaining everyday mental health:
- Make time for mental health by adjusting your routine to include activities that are known to relieve stress and anxiety.
- Stay Present. Try to think about how you can handle your needs and your families needs today. What has worked for you in the past as a coping mechanism to handle past stress?
- Stay connected: Humans are social beings and maintaining meaningful connections with others during COVID-19 physical distancing is essential to well-being. Schedule video chats with friends and family, and make sure to check in with those who are more vulnerable during this challenging time. Maintaining social connections leads to a 50% increased chance of longevity, according to a Stanford University study.
- Eat well: The food we eat affects our mental health. Eating healthy foods containing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and avoiding processed foods or foods high in refined sugar can improve mental health and brain health.
- Exercise often: Exercise can directly benefit the brain and is crucial for maintaining mental health. It can also help manage depression and anxiety – while being beneficial for cognitive health.
- Prioritize sleep: Healthy sleep is essential for mental health while people are trying to cope with COVID-19. Sleep is also key to maintaining brain health; research suggests the neural activity during sleep removes toxins from the brain that can build up during the day.
- Find an outlet: Having creative outlets or hobbies you can rely on like writing, art, music and dance can ease anxiety and stress, and improve your mental health.
- Maintain work-life balance: Maintaining healthy work-life balance is an important aspect of mental health, and many people are trying to navigate work from home for the first time while being surrounded by family members.
- Spend time in nature, responsibly and safely: Spending time outside can lead to a variety of health benefits, including improved mental health. Populations with more exposure to outside green spaces are more likely to report good health, according to a recent study.
- Talk to a professional: If you find you or someone you care about could benefit from additional support, talking to a mental health professional online is always an option.
- Avoid stigma: Stigmatizing people, places and things associated with COVID-19 has a negative impact on their mental health. Stigma also endangers communities because some people may shy away from testing or treatment when they are sick.
Additional COVID-19 Mental Health Resources:
For immediate assistance:
If you have taken steps to end your life, call 911 immediately.
Please access the services below if you are having suicide ideation:
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 1-800-273-8255
- National Sexual Assault Hotline – (800) 656-HOPE
- National Center for PTSD – Veterans Crisis Line – (800) 273-8255
- Women’s Veterans Call Center – 1-855-VA-Women
- Disaster Distress Helpline (SAMHSA) – Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746
Resources for Families and Children:
- How to talk to children about COVID-19, from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
- How to keep children physically and mentally safe during COVID-19, from the CDC
- Building resilience, from the American Psychological Association
- Access free emotional support online, from 7 Cups
Resources for Veterans:
- Projecting the Economic, Social, and Mental Health Needs of America’s Veterans, from the Bob Woodward Foundation
- COVID-19 Resources for Veterans from the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
- Resources from the Wounded Warrior Project
- Telehealth care for Veterans from Cohen Veterans Network
- Resources from Vets4Warriors
Resources for those living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or mental illnesses:
- Resources from the National Alliance on Mental Illness
- Resources from the National Center for PTSD
- Tips for managing stress, from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
- Access peer-to-peer mental health support, from 18percent
Resources for healthcare workers, first responders and caregivers:
- Resources from the National Center for PTSD for healthcare workers
- Resources for psychiatrists, from the American Psychiatric Association
- Resources for physicians and other healthcare workers, from the American Medical Association
- Caring for our caregivers during COVID-19, from the American Medical Association
- COVID-19 Resources for first responders, from FEMA
- The Emotional PPE Project – connecting healthcare workers with mental health professionals
For those experiencing loss and grief:
Cohen Veterans Bioscience (CVB) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) public charity research organization and does not offer medical advice. CVB encourages you to seek medical advice from a physician or healthcare provider if you have questions regarding a medical condition, or to call 911 or go to the nearest hospital if you find that you or someone you are concerned about is in an emergency situation.