Staying on Top of your Mental Health during COVID19 – Peninsula Doctor Update #8
April 16, 2020 update.
During these times of great change, in addition to concerns that we all have for our physical well being, it is also important to focus on our mental health. We asked one of our colleagues, Dr. Danielle Kamis, local psychiatrist, if she had any advice to offer to our patients during this extraordinary time.
The coronavirus pandemic presents us with new, and even frightening challenges that many of us have never previously experienced. Our daily routines have been markedly disrupted, leading to ever increasing levels of anxiety and stress physically, mentally, and financially. Now more than ever before, we must focus on the importance of fortifying our own mental strength by taking practical steps which allow us to accept this current uncertainty while finding comfort that we are doing our part to help “flatten the curve” of the virus’s spread. Here are some practical tools to help accomplish this.
1. Reframe “I am trapped inside” to “I am safe in my home and have time to focus on my own needs”
There have been many changes and restrictions placed on our lives, leading to a feeling of being out-of-control. Rather than focusing on what is out of our control, which leads to increasing levels of anxiety, focus on what is in your control. Use this time to do those activities that you have not had time to do such as re-connecting with people you have lost contact with or exploring areas of interest that have been on your “to do” list. Doing just one new or personally satisfying activity each day can lead to a sense of accomplishment, and a positive outlook while rebuilding a sense of being in control.
2. Keep a regular daily schedule
Create and maintain a routine for yourself that is similar to your previous schedule. Working from home can lend itself to a more irregular lifestyle, which often leads to less-structure, focus and disorganization. Take the time to complete your regular morning routine, wake up at your typical weekday morning times, put your work clothes on, and be sure to take time to eat nutritious meals and exercise each day. Adhering to your normal daily routine will keep you active, while helping maintain much needed structure in your life.
3. Prioritize cleanliness and organization in your home
As mentioned previously, this is a time to ensure continuing routines such as household chores we often take for granted. For example, it is helpful to keep our home spaces organized and clean. A messy house can lead to enhanced feelings of anxiousness, lassitude and even claustrophobia. Similarly, keep home areas functional as you had previously, for example, eat at the kitchen table and not in bed, and work at your desk rather than the couch. Also, setting up a new space for work and other daily activities can be helpful tools that reinforce personal regulation.
4. Start a new quarantine experience
For example, learn to cook new and intricate recipes, start a new habit of daily meditation, yoga, journaling or start new hobbies such as origami or painting. Perhaps you can take a walk every day in the afternoon or connect with a parent or sibling over FaceTime. In sum, have something new and special which will help you look forward to each day.
5.Limit media consumption
Though it is important to stay informed, we also should assiduously avoid continuous exposure to news and social media regarding the coronavirus epidemic. A constant flow of media about the coronavirus can trigger increased levels of anxiety, fear, and panic. Limit your exposure to news or web surfing. Set aside a limited time to watch the news, and if necessary, go to only trustworthy, medical websites or information from your primary care physician.
6. Use telehealth as an option to talk to a professional if your anxiety becomes unmanageable.
Do not hesitate to reach out for professional help if your anxiety is reaching unmanageable proportions. Many licensed therapists and psychiatrists have made available telehealth options over privacy compliant video chat platforms. Such professional help and guidance can prove invaluable and you should have no hesitancy in taking advantage of such services.
Finally, in addition to the six practical tools discussed above to help us deal with the anxieties and challenges of the current coronavirus epidemic, I think it vital for us to remember that generations of our forebears have successfully dealt with circumstances as challenging as this current coronavirus epidemic: earlier world -wide pandemics, famines, devastating economic depressions, the Holocaust, and two horrific world wars. I strongly believe that all of us have within us a deep reservoir of resilience, strength, and courage to carry us through this particular challenge. Indeed, remembering this is critical as we armor ourselves mentally and physically to see us triumph over this particular challenge and by so doing help future generations successfully overcome similar daunting circumstances.
Danielle Kamis is highly regarded psychiatrist practicing in Los Altos Bay Area. We are grateful for her thoughts on how to keep us mentally healthy.