5 Things You Can Do Right Now For Your Pandemic-Impacted Mental Health
From Information Overload to Zoom Fatigue, Now's the Time to Care for Your Mental Health
There’s no question that the coronavirus pandemic has created a mental health crisis.
A federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress saw a whopping 1,000 percent increase this past April compared to last year at that time. And according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, nearly half of Americans report that our global situation has harmed their mental health.
If you or someone you know could use a few tips and reminders when it comes to caring for the brain during this incredibly shaky period of time, we’ve got five you can do right now.
These come from Dr. Faye Walkenfeld, Ph.D., Chair of Touro SHS’s Department of Behavioral Science and also Chair and Associate Professor for our Clinical Mental Health Counseling program.
While some may seem easier said than done, they’re all attainable, doable, and invaluable for yourself and those around you.
1. Discern between what you can and cannot control.
“The first thing that we all have to acknowledge is that we can only deal with what we can control,” says Dr. Walkenfeld. And unfortunately, the virus is something we simply can’t control. “It’s not in my hands whether New York has a pandemic right now, so it’s important to recognize that being anxious about what you can’t control will not help you.”
On the flip side, she adds, your energy should go to what is in your hands. “What’s in my hands is how I behave and what I do with the information to help protect myself and those around me."
2. Avoid information overload.
Are you always tuning in to the news or logging onto Twitter to see up-to-the-minute news about the latest promising vaccines or what armchair experts are saying about the future? Try to slow down. “We can’t overexpose ourselves constantly to the media, because there’s a lot of media hype that just makes it worse,” advises Dr. Walkenfeld. She suggests checking the news once in the morning and once at night, because things are changing that fast and you do likely have a lot of questions (Will summer camps be open? Can I plan a vacation?), but no more than that. Otherwise, it’s easy to obsess over “facts” that keep changing and constantly feel stressed.
One other thing: When you do consume your news, make sure it’s from a reputable source. “Social media is especially bad for this; there’s a lot of false information out there that you don’t want to confuse for facts.”
3. Do more of what helps you relax.
For one, exercise is great for people with diagnosed anxiety and without diagnosed anxiety, says Dr. Walkenfeld. “Exercise is very good at helping people to calm down and get their endorphins going, and it’s excellent in helping mind, body, spirit.” What else? Taking a walk, being out there in nature, she adds. “If you can’t be out there in nature, then meditate. Imagine yourself in nature. Do some mindful activities. Listen to calming music that grounds you. Take a nice hot shower.”
Choose two or three things that are your go-to resources to help center yourself, she says. And remember, “you have to know what works for you. What works for your friend doesn’t necessarily work for you.”
4. Take breaks during the workday.
You’re hearing it straight from Dr. Walkenfeld: “Zoom fatigue is a real thing!” Think about it. When you’re in your office, you have space to go from one meeting to the next. You walk to other rooms. There’s sometimes a 10-minute break just to kind of go from one meeting to the next. You go into someone’s office. You’re crossing a street. You get a coffee. “Working from home, a lot of people are Zooming back to back. It’s exhausting."
We’re not meant to go from one meeting to the next to the next to the next, she says. "You need to impose breaks for yourself throughout the day, giving yourself a chance to breathe and recharge."
5. Ask for help.
If you ever feel like you can’t do all this alone and you need to widen your network with some professional resources, the next step should be what makes you the most comfortable. For some people, an anonymous hotline works great. For others, an appointment with their therapist is a good idea. “Many therapists are very open right now and are extending themselves because they know that clients are suffering,” says Dr. Walkenfeld.
If you’re not up for a hotline and you don’t already have a therapist? “Talk to your primary care doctor and ask for referrals. It never hurts to ask for help.”
Interested in mental health as a possible career?
We’d love for you to consider the programs at Touro SHS. Our clinical mental health counseling program deals most directly with people’s anxieties and depression. Our behavior analysis program, right now, is working with a lot of people whose children have severe disabilities that are being compounded by the pandemic.
And from the I-O psychology front, Dr. Walkenfeld says that there are a lot of businesses that are not aware of how I-O psychology can help them. She says, “With the changing face of business right now and people losing morale, getting a consultant with an I-O psychology background could be pivotal."