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If you could measure anxiety levels the way you do temperature, right now, the world would be hotter than the Sahara. The coronavirus pandemic has ushered in societal changes in unprecedented ways. Unemployment is soaring, people are suffering and even the folks in charge provide few answers as to when life will return to normalcy.
It has never been more crucial to take proactive measures to preserve your mental health. Even if you don’t have a diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder, the current uncertainty is enough to rattle the hardiest soul. Regardless of your circumstances, the following 10 tips can help you weather the storm while remaining calm and centered at your core.
1. Establish a Daily Routine
The times, they are a-changing, as the immortal Bob Dylan once sang. If you aren’t an essential worker, you may have transitioned to telecommuting seemingly overnight, and you might still feel unsettled with the change. Perhaps you lost your job, and you lie awake wondering how you will keep your children fed and your bills paid. Without the structure of an alarm clock and morning commute, you could find yourself staying up until all hours and losing track of the days.
Recent research confirms that establishing a routine can have far-reaching psychological benefits, including easing the symptoms of some mental disorders. Your daily ritual soothes you and lends a sense of purpose to your existence. It doesn’t matter if your schedule consists of nothing but meals, meditation, exercise and job-hunting. Knowing what tasks you have to complete at what time eases decision-fatigue and reduces the anxiety that accompanies not knowing what to do with yourself.
2. Meditate When You Wake Up
Think of your mind like a sponge. It’s at its most absorbent during the time between sleep and wakefulness. If your first act when you open your eyes is to check the news, you risk feeding your brain a heaping scoop of negativity for breakfast. No wonder you feel down for the rest of the day.
Instead, get in the habit of meditating when you first awaken to establish a positive mindset. You can find brief guided videos containing affirmations on YouTube. Many of these are as short as five minutes, so you can make the time no matter how busy you are. Try it for one week and see how much better you feel by the time you reach for your first cup of joe.
3. Prepare Nourishing Meals
If you feel like garbage due to a poor diet, it’s challenging to keep your mind fit. Indeed, research indicates a link between certain nutritional deficiencies and increased rates of depression and anxiety. Take the time to prepare healthy meals, and consider amping up your consumption of the following:
Nuts and seeds: Many varieties of nuts and seeds contain high levels of magnesium, a crucial mineral for mental function. Studies indicate that some cases of mild-to-moderate depression reverse themselves through supplementation of this nutrient.
Vegetable oils: Vegetable oils, like rapeseed oil, contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which are critical to neurological health.
Deep, leafy greens: Greens are high in B-vitamins, which help regulate energy levels and improve your mood.
4. Turn Off the News
You do want to keep yourself informed about the latest pandemic updates, but do you need 24 hours a day of a depressing death toll ticker? Too much exposure to doom and gloom will depress anyone’s mood. Worse, if you have an existing mental health disorder, it can exacerbate your symptoms.
Instead, select a time to listen to the news. Give yourself 30 minutes once per day to catch up and get informed. After that, change the channel and ditch the social media. Find something uplifting to do that will lighten your mood.
5. Tune into Uplifting Movies and Music
Think of your brain like a computer that you can program. If you encode it with negative messages, your outlook will likewise turn dour. Even if you typically enjoy dark dramas or even horror movies, switch to lighthearted comedies with heartening words until the crisis passes. Some major studios are streaming new films straight to video to keep you entertained while the shutdown continues.
6. Get Regular, Moderate Exercise
Exercise releases endorphins, natural, opioid-like chemicals that your body produces. They ease pain, and they also improve your outlook. However, the mental health benefits of exercise extend beyond a temporary mood boost.
One study examined the effects of exercise on patients with major depressive disorder. Some participants used physical activity only, some relied solely on antidepressants and others used a placebo. When the study ended, both the workout and medication groups showed higher rates of remission than the latter section. This research indicates that participating in regular movement works as effectively as prescriptions for combatting the disorder.
7. Adopt a Positive Hobby
Some hobbies can prove useful in helping you to manage your mental health. For example, if you suffer from an eating issue such as binge-eating disorder, you might struggle more than most when your refrigerator is only a few steps away all day. Activities such as knitting keep your hands busy, which prevents you from dipping them back into the chips bag.
8. Go Outdoors
Many studies show a correlation between spending time outdoors and mood improvement. Even if you live in a tiny apartment, most places allow you to go outside to exercise as long as you follow social distancing rules. When your emotions threaten to overwhelm you, lace up your sneakers and go out for a walk. If you can find an open natural area where you can go for a hike or sit by a babbling stream.
9. Lean on Your Support Network
How long has it been since you talked to your college roommate? Why not give them a call? Now is the ideal opportunity to reach out to your support network and help each other to make it through this challenging time.
If you have a best friend or partner whom you trust to discuss your mental health issues, let them know what help you need. Perhaps you would like a daily check-in call or text to make sure you get out of bed if you recently lost your job. You’re always there for the people you love — let them help you when you need it, too.
10. Get Adequate Sleep
Did you know that people with insomnia are ten times more likely to have depression and seventeen times more likely to experience anxiety? Your brain craves the break that sleep offers, even if it seems like it doesn’t want to turn off at the day’s end. If you are having trouble catching Z’s, try the following techniques:
Keep electronics elsewhere: If you rely on your phone as an alarm clock, invest in a standard model instead. The blue light from device screens can interfere with sleep cycles.
Make it dark and quiet: If you live in a brightly lit urban area, consider blackout curtains to cut flashing neons. If noisy roommates or a snoring partner keeps you counting sheep, consider investing in a white-noise machine that can block out the din.
Create a bedtime ritual: Sometimes, your body needs physiological clues that it is time to wind down for the day. Take a hot bath or practice a few gentle yoga stretches in bed to get your mind and body ready for slumber.
Talk to your doctor: Even though you might want to avoid the doctor’s office right now, many physicians will see their regular patients via telemedicine. Contact your provider to explore this option, as well as medications that can help.
Nurture Your Mental Health During Uncertain Times
Right now, it’s more crucial than ever to safeguard your mental health. Follow a few handy tips to protect your psyche during uncertain times — and always.