The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many people to experience social isolation and a general feeling of uncertainty. It’s completely normal to have anxiety, worry, fear, and stress in these circumstances. Survey data shows that poor mental health has indeed increased in the U.S. since early 2020. Other COVID-related causes of mental duress in American adults include fear of contracting the coronavirus, the stress of homeschooling children while also working from home, fears of job loss and increased financial anxiety due to an economic downturn, and grief over the death of loved ones.
Mental health symptoms on the rise
There’s been a spike in self-reported mental health conditions of all kinds since the pandemic began. For instance, nearly 37% of all adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of either anxiety or depression from 2020 to 2021, compared to just 11% in 2019.
We’ve also learned that people of color are more likely to feel anxious or depressed due to the pandemic. These populations have historically been less likely to receive health care than their white counterparts, and the COVID-19 pandemic has shed critical light on this disparity. Research shows that people of color die from COVID-19 at a rate disproportionate to their population, which also means there’s a significant number of grieving families in communities of color.
How to take care of yourself
So, if you’re among the millions of Americans whose mental health has dipped over the last year, what are the best ways to get back on track?
- Manage your stress before it manages you. We all face stress, but without proper management, it can often spiral out of control, especially in our current circumstances. Build stress relief into your schedule. It can be as simple as playing with a pet, going for a walk outside in nature, writing in a journal, or watching a comedy movie.
- Get the sleep your mind and body need. Good sleep hygiene is critical to mental health. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Avoid looking at screens in the bedroom. Wind down for a significant period before trying to sleep. Create a comfortable routine around rest, and it can improve how you feel.
- Be sure to fit exercise into your schedule. Move your body every day, even if it’s just low-to-moderate intensity physical activity. Fitness is shown to improve mood, soothe anxiety, and otherwise help stabilize your mental health.
- Quiet your mind. A few minutes of daily meditation can do wonders, and it’s more simple than most people think. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and distractions minimized. Focus on your breathing, not whether you’re doing it “right.” Spending time doing this on a regular schedule can make a real impact.
- Break up your routine. As important as it is to have regularity with all the above—sleep, meditation, exercise—your mental health will also benefit from breaking up the monotony of the daily grind. A simple departure from tedium can give you new perspective and help when routine becomes a rut.
- Pay attention to your diet. What you eat affects your health in countless ways, and that includes mental wellbeing. Be mindful of your meals. Eat nutritiously and balanced, especially if you’ve used comfort food for immediate relief throughout the past year.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. Self-medicating with substances is not a good idea. While they may offer a temporary escape from anxiety, depression, and other conditions, in the long run, they’ll only exacerbate problems.
- Ask for help. This is most important of all. If your mental health is worsening, be sure to reach out to the people in your life and, if necessary, professionals who can offer treatment. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and it’s never been more necessary.
Staying On Track
Prioritizing your mental health keeps you strong in the face of COVID-19 and helps you take care of those around you. Connect with others while masking up and socially distancing. Engage in activities you enjoy, be sure to get outside for fresh air and natural light. And if you’re experiencing anxiety or any of the above concerns, speak with a mental health care provider for additional assistance in managing your symptoms.