Your Health

Staying on top of your mental health during the pandemic

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Los Altos psychiatrist Danielle Kamis suggests journaling as an outlet during the required shelter-in-place period.

The coronavirus pandemic presents new, and even frightening, challenges that many people 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, we must focus on the importance of fortifying our own mental strength by taking practical steps that allow us to accept the 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.

• 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 reconnecting 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.

• 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 time to complete your regular morning routine, wake up at your typical weekday morning times, put your work clothes on and be sure 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.

• Prioritize cleanliness and organization in your home. This is a time to ensure continuing routines such as household chores we often take for granted. Keep 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 on the couch. Also, setting up a new space for work and other daily activities can be helpful tools that reinforce personal regulation.

• Start a new quarantine experience. Learn to cook new and intricate recipes; start a habit of daily meditation, yoga or 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. Have something new and special that will help you look forward to each day.

• Limit media consumption. Although 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 virus may 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, visit only trustworthy, medical websites or seek information from your primary-care physician.

• 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 take advantage of such services.

In addition to the practical tools discussed above, it is vital to remember that generations before us have successfully dealt with circumstances as challenging as the coronavirus epidemic: earlier worldwide pandemics, famines, devastating economic depressions, the Holocaust and two horrific world wars.

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 a psychiatrist in Los Altos.

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