When COVID-19 started to upend our world in March 2020, many of us assumed it would resolve in a matter months. Now, more than a year later, there’s no sign of the pandemic going away anytime soon. And with the Delta variant and other infectious variants ushering in a new wave of unknowns, the question of how to look after our own well-being in the face of uncertainty and general COVID-19 “fatigue” is more important than ever.
Read on for ways you can care for your mental health during this uncertain time.
6 ways to care for your mental health amid the uncertainty of COVID-19
1. Limit the amount of news you consume
While it’s important to stay informed, the 24-hour news cycle, coupled with more than a year’s worth of pandemic-centered headlines, could cause anyone to feel overwhelmed or just generally burned out. Safeguard your mental energy from information overload by setting a daily time limit on the amount of news you read and watch, or only letting yourself browse news coverage during a particular timeframe each day.
2. Use social media carefully
You’ve probably leaned heavily on social media to stay connected with friends and family during the pandemic. Social media has helped us all feel a little less isolated—but there can be a downside. Many well-meaning connections may spread information that’s false or misleading—and the last thing you need right now is undue stress caused by questionable information. Remember: Just because you saw it on social media doesn’t mean it’s true. So, if you’re looking for reputable, unbiased sources of information about COVID-19, head over to the social media channels of credible organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) or your local health department.
And if there are particular social media accounts you follow that are stressing you out or just generally making you feel bad? Feel free to unfollow them or hide their posts from your newsfeed(s). You can always refollow them when life becomes a little less stressful.
3. Engage in acts of self-care
Self-care can be whatever you want or need it to be. After all, the beauty is that it can look different from person to person. No matter what self-care looks like for you, one thing is certain: The connection between your physical and mental health cannot be underscored enough (which is why you should aim to incorporate aspects of both in your self-care routine).
Some ways you can engage in self-care:
- Get good, restful sleep. Adults usually need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. If you find you’re struggling to fall or stay asleep, try limiting your exposure to screens prior to bedtime, and aim to go to bed at the same time each night. Having a cup of herbal tea or reading a book are both great ways to signal to your brain that it’s time to wind down.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise is good for your mental health as well as your physical health, increasing serotonin levels to improve your mood and energy. To make it easier to fit exercise into your routine, choose something you enjoy—whether it’s running around with your kids, playing fetch with your dog, lifting weights, practicing yoga or something else. Aim to move at least 30 minutes each day, but don’t fret if you’re not able to fit it in all at once. Even small amounts of exercise add up.
- Eat well and stay hydrated. A balanced diet and plenty of water are both key to improving your energy and focus throughout the day. Try to also limit your intake of caffeine from coffee and soda, and if you drink alcohol, be mindful of how much you’re consuming.
- Explore mindfulness and meditation. The benefits of both mindfulness and meditation are numerous, and include decreased stress, improved concentration, lower blood pressure and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression. If you’ve been intimidated to incorporate the practice into your daily life, don’t be—it can be as simple as eating, listening and moving more mindfully in your day-to-day or setting aside five to 10 minutes daily to meditate. If you’re interested in getting started with mindfulness and meditation, see if your employer, health plan or health provider gives you free access to myStrength.
- Practice gratitude. One way to build a positive mindset is to remind yourself of the people and things you’re grateful for. Make a regular practice of it by writing down three to five things each day that you’re grateful for right before you go to bed.
- Create a “no” list. It’s more than OK to set healthy boundaries for things that no longer serve you, whether it’s not checking your email past a certain time, or choosing not to go to that event you feel obligated to attend.
4. Stay connected
Keeping in touch with the people who matter most to us is as important now as it was during the height of the pandemic. Our social bonds can help reduce stress and flood our systems with oxytocin, the “bonding hormone” that can make us feel secure, supported and connected with those we love. Depending on where you live and how comfortable you feel with in-person social interactions, staying connected with friends and family can look many different ways, from phone calls and video meetups to walks and outdoor activities to weekend trips and getaways.
5. Focus on what you can control
Uncertainty is all around us, never more so than right now. Yet as human beings, we long for security and stability; when something outside of our control happens (like a global pandemic), many of us turn to worrying, using it as a tool to predict the future and avoid uncomfortable surprises. But worry is misleading—it makes us think that if we can agonize over a problem long enough, we’ll come up with a solution and be able to control the outcome. Instead, all it does is cause undue stress and anxiety that keeps us from enjoying the present.
When you catch yourself worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet, bring yourself back to the present moment. Focus on what you can control, whether it’s washing your hands, removing yourself from a situation or environment that’s causing you stress, or limiting the amount of news you consume (see #1 above).
6. Seek professional help
No matter what you’re feeling, you don’t have to go it alone. Part of looking after yourself is knowing when you need some extra help. Luckily, Teladoc offers confidential counseling on your schedule, with experts available to talk by phone or video 7 days a week at a time that works best for you. Get support for a wide range of mental health needs—from managing daily life to anxiety, stress, depression, bipolar disorder, trauma and more.
Are you already seeing a therapist but don’t feel your current treatment plan is working, or you’re just not feeling better? A Mental Health Treatment Review from our experts can help.
Published September 29, 2021