Currently, an estimated 2.6 billion people – one-third of the world’s population – is living under some kind of lockdown or quarantine. This is arguably one of the largest psychological stressors placed on the human population in modern history. Many health experts worry that the lockdown and quarantine will result in a secondary epidemic of professional burnout and stress-related conditions in the latter half of 2020. We are likely to see a continued, substantial increase in posttraumatic stress, anxiety and depression once the restrictions are lifted among our first responders, health care workers and friends and family. In order to mitigate the toxic effects of COVID-19 lockdowns, consider taking the following steps:
- Stay connected with your social and family networks via technology- phone calls, FaceTime, Zoom and other online meeting rooms are the perfect way to stay in touch with your family and friends without risking infection.
- Keep your daily routines as much as possible. It’s important to wake up, get ready for the day, and keep your body in its natural rhythm, regardless of your employment or family situation.
- Exercise regularly and practice habits that you enjoy and find relaxing. The CDC recommends you exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and stay in a healthy bedtime routine. Daily walks or simple activities can make an impact.
- Turn off the flow of information. Seek practical, credible information at specific times of the day, and take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting and give you a sense of loss of control.
- Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or find ways to mediate. The CDC also recommends you try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals. Many people are using this increased time at home to learn new cooking skills, share recipes and sit down with household members at meals. Incorporating learning about nutrition and healthy eating using MyPlate and other nutritional guidelines during the pandemic can translate to new, healthy eating habits for a lifetime.
- Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities that you enjoy. For many people who are working from home, spending the entire day on Zoom meetings or phone calls can be stressful. It’s important to know when to call it a day, stop checking emails, and turn your mind away from work. As many people are used to working outside the home, it can be a challenge to “shut off work” when the computer is right in front of you. Experts suggest you find a space to set up your “home office” and when the day is done, leave “the office” to give yourself a much-needed break.
- Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. The difference between a personal battle and the COVID-19 quarantine is that we are all in this together. Plenty of people are experiencing what you are. Seek out those in similar circumstances, whether it’s other parents with young children, single parents juggling work and home schooling, or individuals who are single and feeling isolated both mentally and physically.
Many individuals experience common core reactions to COVID -19. It’s important to understand if you or someone in your life is struggling so that you can help address their anxiety or concerns. These stressors might include:
- Concern about protecting oneself from the virus because of higher risk of serious illness.
- Worry about disruption of regular medical care or community services due to facility closures or reductions in services and public transport closure.
- Feeling socially isolated, especially if they live alone or are in a community setting that is not allowing visitors because of the outbreak.
- Guilt if loved ones help them with activities of daily living.
- Increased levels of distress if they:
- Have mental health concerns before the outbreak, such as depression.
- Live in lower-income households or have language barriers
- Experience stigma because of age, race or ethnicity, disability, or perceived likelihood of spreading COVID-19.
You can support your loved ones or people who fall into the above categories by frequently checking-in. Knowing that you are thinking of them eases many burdens and anxieties. Virtual communication can decrease loneliness and the feeling of isolation. Consider connecting with loved ones by:
- Mailing letters or cards
- Text messages
- Video chat
- Social media
It’s important for everyone to take care of their own emotional health right now, especially if you are a primary caregiver for aging parents or young children. Much like when traveling on a plane and the flight attendant reminds you to secure your own oxygen mask before helping others, if you don’t address your own mental well -being you won’t be able to support others at a high level. Advocating for a loved one can take an emotional toll, especially during an outbreak like COVID-19. Parents of young children, or adults caring for aging parents, need to pay particular attention to their own mental health, so that they can stay healthy to help those who rely on them.
As some states begin the process to “re-open” businesses, it’s important to stay home if you are sick. Do not visit family or friends who are at greater risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Use virtual communication to keep in touch to support your loved ones and keep them safe. Even as we approach some levels of quarantine coming to an end, the most vulnerable among us will continue to be considered “high risk.” Fight the urge to abandon social distancing when you haven’t seen an elderly parent or an at-risk friend. Maintain your empathy through non-contact means. Ultimately, you will be protecting yourself and your loved-one’s physical and mental health.
As you begin to venture out, pay special attention to social distance guidelines, mask utilization, hand washing and avoid touching your face. Keep travel sized hand sanitizer and wipes in your car or bag so you are always prepared. In some cases, the benefits of taking a hike or meeting with a friend in a safe, socially distanced manner can result in better overall well-being, and that’s something we shouldn’t minimize. We encourage you to make smart choices based on your unique situation, and check back often on our website for the most up to date information as the situation continues to evolve.