How to Take Care of Your Mental Health & Wellbeing During COVID-19

Health 14 April, 2020

Global pandemics are the kind of things you read about in history books… Or they might be something that affects people in large cities but are quickly contained… Or they’re something that’s talked about but never materializes.

At least, that’s how it used to feel. But COVID-19 changed that.

While COVID-19 is nothing compared to the Spanish Flu outbreak a century ago, it is still a global pandemic And that means that everyone is affected in some way.

For many of us, this means engaging in social isolation or voluntary quarantine. Others work in essential fields of work that cannot be shut down at this time, like medical facilities, grocery stores, and first responder units.

No matter how you’re handling the situation, your mental health is bound to take a hit. Even those who usually don’t suffer from depression or anxiety will be under a lot of stress right now. If you already had issues with mental health prior to the pandemic, you are likely to find them getting worse.

This means that taking care of your mental health right now is a priority. Here are a few ways to take care of your mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Limit Social Media

Cutting back on social media might not seem like a good idea right now. After all, it’s currently one of the main ways people stay in contact, now that in-person gatherings aren’t a good idea.

But there is a difference between spending time online with friends or family versus the way people interact on social media.

When someone suggests limiting social media, they don’t mean that you should cut yourself off completely. They mean that you shouldn’t engage in the bickering, negativity, and information overload that goes along with being active on major social media platforms. These interactions don’t do anything but overwhelm and agitate people.

You can choose to log off of social media altogether. Some people even go so far as to delete their social media accounts. Or you can simply choose to avoid arguments and use the block button to avoid people that tend to bring drama or debates.

In place of social media, you can text friends to meet up for an online movie night using an extension like Netflix Party. Or you can find an online version of Scrabble, Uno, poker, Cards Against Humanity, and any number of other board and card games.

This lets you get in social interaction with people you like without the stress of being “public,” the way you are when using social media.

Keep an Eye on Your Gut Health

Most of the time, people only think about eating healthy when they want to watch their weight. And if you think that keeping a trim waistline seems silly in the midst of a pandemic, you’re not alone.

But avoiding junk food and trying your best to maintain a balanced daily diet has just as much to do with promoting gut health as it does with your body weight.

While gut health might not sound all that important either, there’s mounting evidence that your gut health can impact your mood, all thanks to the Gut-Brain Axis. This gut-brain connection runs directly from your brain to your gut and back. While it’s mostly used by your brain to ensure that your gut functions properly, it can also be used by your gut to affect your mood.

In fact, there is now evidence that the bacteria in your gut directly affects the production of dopamine and serotonin. When you load your diet with highly processed foods that are high in sugar (which even includes foods you wouldn’t consider sweet) and low in nutrients or fiber, you’re damaging the health of your gut bacteria.

With so much else going on, you don’t need the added stress of struggling gut bacteria.

Your gut’s best line of defense is a fairly healthy diet. Certain foods might be hard to come across right now, but many stores still have stores of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and tempeh.

The fiber in fresh fruits and vegetables will help keep your gut functioning so your natural bacteria can thrive. And fermented food is a great natural source of probiotics.

Many of us have more time on our hands right now, which presents an opportunity. If you’ve never tried fermented foods, you can now take the time to sample a few and find ways to fit them into your daily diet.

Of course, if you want a heavy hit of probiotics, you’ll want to reach for a supplement. But fermented foods are a good place to start.

You can also try different ways to prepare fresh fruits and vegetables. A recipe like this flavorful veggie bake can be made with just about any form of protein and will keep you full for hours, thanks to all the gut-friendly fiber it contains.

And while fiber won’t take away all your stress right now, it will help keep your gut healthier so you have one less thing to worry about. 

Try to Stay Active

Staying active isn’t easy when you’re not supposed to leave your house very often. But moving your body is just as important to your mental health as a balanced diet.

According to the CDC, almost all adults feel a moderate mood boost immediately after they exercise.

The trick, of course, is to find something you like. You’re not going to feel very good if you run in place for 30 minutes, especially if you don’t like running.

But if you are a fan of zombies or superheroes, then you might enjoy a workout with an app like Zombies, Run or 7-Minute Superhero. They gamify your exercise and put you into an interactive story that takes some of the work out of a workout.

Many areas still encourage people to go for walks, so long as they keep a reasonable social distance in mind. If you’d rather stick close to home, though, you can always have a home dance party with your favorite playlist, try out fitness games on your console of choice, or take a yoga routine from YouTube (Yoga with Adrienne is particularly popular).

Finding the home workout that suits your needs is a way to make the best of a bad situation. And once the pandemic has been contained, you may find that you want to continue your new exercise of choice!

The Takeaway

Right now, there is a lot of temptation to hole up in your house and huddle in front of the TV. But that is just about the opposite of what you should do.

Stay home, of course. It’s the only way to flatten the curve and do everything we can to contain this pandemic. But don’t let yourself hibernate on the couch until the danger has passed.

Do your best to keep a healthy diet rolling while you’re staying home. And as hard as it is, find some sort of exercise that you enjoy and that you can do while at home.

This is a good time to find new recipes and activities that fit easily into your home life and that you enjoy. Then you can carry them with you when we make it to the other side of this situation.

In the meantime, all we can do is work together, take care of ourselves, and help take care of each other.