Nearly half of Americans report the current pandemic is harming their mental health. The federal emergency Mental Health Hotline has had more than 1,000% increase since April. Online therapy has increased 65% since mid-February. [WP]
In May 2020 a research study was conducted finding that rates of reported anxiety rose from 6.33% to 50.9%, depression 14.6% to 48.3%, PTSD 7% to 53.8%, psychological distress 34.43% to 38%, and stress 8.1% to 81.9% in the general population [NCBI]. Approximately twice as many reports of elevated levels of suicidal ideation, compared to 2018, were reported to the CDC in the United States in June of 2020, an increase from 4.3% to 10.7% [CDC].
While world leaders are scrambling to flatten the curve, many are demanding more attention be focused on a rising mental health crisis. Yes, keeping ourselves physically healthy and safe is necessary, but equally important is our Mental Health.
For Many Isolation & Loneliness is Causing A Failure
Social isolation has been listed as a contributing cause of death for many long-term care residents in nursing homes across the Country. [AARP]
“You see increased falls, decrease in strength and ability to ambulate. You see an acceleration of dementia, because there is no rhythm to your day. There isn’t a single part of a person’s life that isn’t affected.”“The Hidden Covid-19 Health Crisis: Elderly People are Dying From Isolation” – NBCNews
The toll on our mental health due to mandated lockdowns and having to stay isolated in our homes, is a reported 50 percent increased risk of developing dementia, 32 percent increased risk of stroke, and a nearly fourfold increased risk of death among heart failure patients. [AARP]
So, it seems a complicated task to abide by the government’s request to stay home to keep our physical health protected, while also keeping our mental health strong. All without socializing with others.
How is this possible long-term?
5 Ways To Protect Your Mental Health
It’s important to become part of a community and promote worthwhile causes. But while social media allows us to stay connected it also can contribute to the further failing of our mental health. We can easily feel an overwhelming burden of stress because of our participation in online discussions. Multiple studies have found convincing evidence of a link between heavy social media use and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. [HelpGuide] This leads me to my first recommendation…
1) Take A Break From The Noise
If you’re feeling more anxious than normal, or you find yourself lashing out at your loved ones, or feeling more persistently depressed, it’s probably a good time to detox from social media.
“One recent study examined the links between Facebook use and wellbeing. “We found that the more you use Facebook over time, the more likely you are to experience negative physical health, negative mental health and negative life satisfaction,” says study author Holly Shakya, assistant professor and social media researcher at the University of California, San Diego.”– “Is Social Media Making Me Miserable?” – TIME
I would recommend taking a full week or two off. Then, return with limited use and establish boundaries, because social media use isn’t all bad. Positive Psychology wrote an article detailing its benefits and arguing against negative reports about social media use. Jessica Swainston, Ph.D. recommends the following guidelines to positive social media use:
- Be mindful of how you feel – “don’t compare your own life to someone else’s highlight reel”
- Be selective – “if certain friends, influencers, work colleagues or organizations are upsetting you, it’s okay to unfollow them”
- Keep it out of the bedroom – “limit social media use in the 30 minutes before bedtime”
- Monitor usage – “Handily, social media platforms now give users insights into how long they spend on the platform each day”
- Time limits – “Platforms now include a feature that enables you to set a time limit for usage”
- Take regular breaks – “At least once a week, try to refrain from using social media. Jot this down in your calendar”
More recommendations on managing social media use can be found on Psychology Today:
- Turn off notifications and set virtual boundaries…
- Set “phone free zones” in your home…
- Respond offline…
2) Build A Morning Routine
Back in January of 2020 I began implementing a consistent routine. Without fail. Every day. Having to go without medication for my mental health condition, my regular morning routine has been a lifesaver. It has truly helped me maintain stability even through triggers in life that would normally get (and keep) me down. You can read about my morning routine here: ‘How To Get Stuff Done‘.
The routine doesn’t have to be complicated, the intention of having one is to keep you moving, set goals that are easy to accomplish, and provide you with purpose in each day. Without writing down a plan for the day, it’s easy to fall into that risky headspace of feeling like a failure. And having ‘no rhythm to your day’ can lead to a risk of dementia.
Building a consistent routine for the day gives you the needed rhythm to nurture your mental health, much like exercising and eating healthy helps maintain a balanced body.
3) Get Outside – Yes, Even If It’s Cold
When we moved to Utah back in August it was predicted that I would experience an intense episode of depression. Moving is a major life event. But I have been taking my dog Henry out for a walk every morning for an average of 30-45min. I strongly believe that my daily morning routine and walks with Henry have been enough to keep my head above water most days. When I have had the occasional spell of intense depression this regular rhythm has helped me lift my head above water sooner. I’m grateful I haven’t had the ‘crash’ that I, and many others in my life had expected I would.
“…whether they’ve experienced SAD in the past or feel symptoms now, will be proactive as well.“How Lifestyle Changes During COVID-19 May Help People with Seasonal Affective Disorder” – Healthline
“I do think there are people who are realizing that it’s been an issue in the past, and the pandemic is just amplifying things,” she said. “I have been urging people to try light box, try vitamin D supplementation, try lunchtime walks and sunshine exposure as much as possible.”
On the stormy days, and as an added exposure to the much needed sunlight during the Winter months where the days are shorter, I recommend purchasing a sunlamp (‘Sun Therapy Lamp‘)
I have more recommendations for ways to help ease the anxiety and depression in my article here: 5 Ways to Help Lift Your Head Above Water & Find Peace of Mind
3) Make Music & Creative Hobbies Part of Every Day
“Decades of research have demonstrated that in people with dementia and other progressive neurological diseases, the ability to create art remains long after speech and language have diminished. Research has also shown that creating visual art can reduce stress and promote relaxation in people who are hospitalized or homebound due to illness…“The Healing Power of Art” – Harvard Medical School
…Recent research suggests that to stave off cognitive decline, doing creative activities may be more effective than merely appreciating creative works. A 2017 report from the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging indicated that people over 70 who did crafts projects had a lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment than did those who read books. In a 2014 German study, retirees who painted and sculpted had greater improvements in spatial reasoning and emotional resilience than did a similar group who attended art appreciation classes.”
Creative hobbies that you could include in these Fall & Winter months could be any of the following (feel free to add your suggestions in a comment below):
- Jigsaw Puzzle
- Paint by Number
- Diamond Painting
- Indoor Gardening
4) Always Keep Your Nose In A Book – Learn Something New!
“A relatively unknown mental health intervention is “bibliotherapy” or “reading therapy.” This mainly refers to structured book-reading programs run by clinics, libraries, or schools aimed at promoting recovery in people with mental health difficulties…– Dr. Rob Whitley, Ph.d, “Can Reading Books Improve Your Mental Health”
Several studies have examined whether bibliotherapy can facilitate recovery from mental illness. One classic study found a decrease in depressive symptoms after a program of bibliotherapy, a finding repeated in more recent meta-analyses and systematic reviews…
…books are an invaluable but underutilized resource that can increase empathy, enhance recovery and inspire those with mental health difficulties. As such, reading should be encouraged for everybody, but particularly those with mental illness—whether through formal bibliotherapy groups or individual prompting from family, friends or clinicians.”
There are inexpensive courses you can take online on almost any subject matter, where you can be certified in a new profession in less than a year. Here are some links to sources of eLearning at a low cost or free:
5) Take One Hour, Every Day, Just For You
It’s so important to practice mindfulness. It is possible—even for the busiest of mothers & fathers—to carve out time in each day to find peace. To CREATE peace. This could be in the form of an extra long shower, bath, or a quiet drive around the neighborhood. It could be writing in your journal, or going for a walk.
Journaling helps control your symptoms and improve your mood by:University of Rochester Medical Center ‘ Journaling for Mental Health‘
– Helping you prioritize problems, fears, and concerns.
– Tracking any symptoms day-to-day so that you can recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them.
– Providing an opportunity for positive self-talk and identifying negative thoughts and behaviors.
With the world shouting out in anger and chaos, you can create your own small world with a sense of personal control and stability. This is as important as any prescription a doctor could prescribe you. Write your own prescription of YOU time every day.
If you find this article helpful, please feel free to share with your friends and loved ones. 💚