In spring 2020, people around the world were forced to upend their lives in a hurry as the novel coronavirus spread across the globe. Now, as the end of the year approaches, we’re still not back to normal, even as scientists and medical professionals race to develop treatments and a vaccine to combat COVID-19. Even those who handled the initial strict lockdowns and current restrictions on once-ordinary activities well are likely to find that the ongoing uncertainty and worry are eroding their mental health.
The first thing to know is that if you’re not feeling okay, that’s normal. It is healthy and important to acknowledge the ways in which our current situation is hard, even if you or your loved ones have not gotten ill. Next, know that there are steps you can take to help maintain and improve your mental health that will benefit you not only now, but also throughout your life. Here are some tips:
1. Establish routines and boundaries
Working and learning from home have helped slow the spread of the virus, but these new routines have also eliminated many of the cues that defined our weeks and helped create divisions between work and leisure. You may find yourself losing track of time and allowing work to bleed into the late hours. Take a moment to set up a schedule for yourself and to define, if possible, a dedicated space for your work or study. When it is time to knock off for the day, stick to your plan. Establish a regular bedtime and set your alarm in the morning. Having a schedule and sticking to it will help keep you grounded and give you time to prioritize rest and relaxation in its proper time.
Mental well-being is directly connected to your physical well-being. Long periods of inactivity can increase anxiety and sleepless, which is exactly what you don’t need during a generally stressful time. Unfortunately, many of the features of pandemic living—remote work and endless Zoom meetings—seem almost deliberately designed to keep us glued to our chairs. Physical activity helps to boost endorphins and neurotransmitters and reduce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Schedule in some time each day to get moving. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated or especially strenuous. A walk around the neighborhood will give you exercise, a change of scenery, and some sun exposure for a healthy dose of vitamin D (which may help keep any seasonal blues at bay).
3. Practice healthy self-soothing
Stress eating. A cocktail (or two). We’ve all turned to comforts that we know aren’t great for us in the face of news that has been frankly overwhelming and hard to process this year. Instead, try to substitute healthy habits that promote relaxation, like meditation, yoga, listening to music, or taking a warm bath with Epsom salts or essential oils. If you’re not sure where to start, try searching online for guided meditation videos, or download a relaxation app on your phone. There are many resources to help get you started.
4. Reach out to your friends and family
Isolation is one of the toughest parts of the pandemic. Even those who have been sheltering at home with immediate family or roommates have lost regular social connections with extended family, friends, and coworkers. Pick up the phone or use that Zoom account to schedule a videoconference with the people you’re missing. You can create a game night by pairing a video call with an online game platform (here’s one example). Or have an in-person meetup at a local park, where you can space out and enjoy some fresh air while you’re catching up.
5. Know when to log off
The endless cascade of bad news since the start of the year has been so mesmerizing to most people that it has even popularized a new term for being unable to turn away—doomscrolling. It may seem irresponsible to even briefly tune out the news, but endlessly refreshing your news and social media feeds to see the next disaster is not good for your mental health. Set limits on how long you’re going to check out the news, especially at night when the blue light from an extended period of staring at a screen can throw your sleep cycle out of whack, and firmly put your tablet or phone away when time is up.
Putting the effort into taking positive steps to support your own mental health won’t just benefit yourself. You’ll find that your improved frame of mind will give you more energy and resilience for supporting those around you and tackling whatever tasks you need to take care of as well. Best of all, a new set of healthy habits will be a silver lining worth keeping from 2020.