WHAT ARE SOME STRATEGIES INDIVIDUALS CAN USE TO COPE WITH THE MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGES CAUSED BY THE PANDEMIC

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a significant toll on people’s mental health globally. With lockdowns, isolation, job losses, grief due to loss of loved ones, and uncertainty about the future, it is understandable that many are struggling with increased stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. There are proactive steps one can take to better cope during this difficult time.

One of the most important things is to maintain a routine as much as possible. When our daily schedules and routines are disrupted, it can worsen feelings of unease, lack of control, and disorientation. Set a regular wakeup time and establish a daily schedule that provides structure to your days. Include time for work or study, physical activity, hobbies or recreational activities, and socializing online with others. Having a routine gives us a sense of normalcy and predictability which can improve mood.

It is also vital to practice stress management techniques. When we feel anxious or overwhelmed, our breathing often becomes shallow and rapid. Calming breathing exercises counteract the fight-or-flight stress response. Apps like Calm and Insight Timer provide guided breathing sessions. Mindfulness meditation trains us to live in the present moment non-judgmentally and can help reduce worry and rumination. Going for a walk outside while being mindful of surroundings can relieve stress and boost mood. Other stress relievers include relaxing activities such as listening to music, reading, praying/meditating, drawing, or cooking something enjoyable.

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Getting sufficient quality sleep is another important factor impacting mental health during difficult times. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Reduce screen time before bed, avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime. Create a bedroom environment that is cool, dark and quiet. Some find relaxation techniques or calming bedtime routines help them fall asleep more easily. If insomnia persists, consult a medical professional as lack of sleep seriously impacts mood, concentration and stress levels.

During periods of isolation, it is crucial to maintain social connections through digital means. While not as engaging as face-to-face interaction, phone or video calls with family and friends combat loneliness. Join an online support group to share experiences and support others in similar situations. Consider reconnecting with old friends through messaging apps or virtual games. Community support is greatly healing during times of crisis.

Steer clear of constantly monitoring news and social media updates, especially close to bedtime. While it’s important to stay informed, continuous streaming of pandemic related information exacerbates anxiety and fear. Limit consumption of news to periodic fact-based updates from reliable sources like health agencies. Fill leisure time with uplifting content that provide mental respite such as comedies, inspirational films and programs, online courses, podcasts that inspire hope and growth.

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During challenging times, take good care of your physical health as well. Maintaining a healthy, nutritious diet supports mental well-being. Limit overly sugary and processed foods. Aim for plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein foods which assist with mood regulation. Exercise reduces stress hormone cortisol and releases feel-good endorphins. Try to be physically active for at least 30 minutes daily through home workouts, dancing, yoga or outdoor activities when possible.

Practice self-care by engaging in relaxing hobbies and activities you find meaning in. Spend time in creative pursuits like painting, playing music, writing poetry or journaling to boost emotional wellness. Do small acts of kindness by helping others through online volunteering. Establishing care routines such as skin care, hair care, relaxing baths uplift spirits. Give yourself permission to feel sad or anxious sometimes too. Be kind and patient with yourself as you would care for a good friend struggling with distress.

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If stress levels persist or worsen considerably for several weeks, don’t hesitate to seek help. Many therapists provide telehealth services during this time. Primary care doctors can also screen for mental health issues and make appropriate referrals if necessary. Some mobile apps offer cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to help with issues like anxiety, depression and insomnia. Support groups and helplines are comforting outlets during isolation. Reach out to clergy, trusted others or emergency services if experiencing thoughts of suicide or harming oneself or others. With patience and perseverance, these difficult times can be better managed.

Adopting positive coping strategies is vital for mental wellness during times of crisis, distress and isolation like the current pandemic. Maintaining routines, practicing relaxation techniques, getting quality sleep, staying socially connected, limiting distressing news and caring for physical health are all effective evidence-based ways to support mental health. Know that you don’t have to cope alone – seek help if needed. With resilience and compassion for oneself and others, there is light ahead even in our darkest hours. We will get through this together by focusing on things we can control and cultivating inner strength and hope for the future.

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