Caring for Your Mental Health During COVID-19

By The Fix staff 05/26/20

The pandemic can take a real toll on mental health, which could affect your sobriety.

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Drawing of woman sitting on floor alone, holding the world, social distancing
It’s easy to spiral, thinking about everything that is out of your control right now.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this year, more than ever, it’s important to talk openly about mental health and take care of your mental well-being. The coronavirus pandemic has made the mental health crisis in America even worse. One telling piece of data: anxiety medication prescriptions rose 34% between Feb. 16 and March 15. It’s likely they’ve continued to go up since then. After all, many of us are living through a trauma experience.

The pandemic and the economic consequences are out of our control, but there are things that everyone can do to help control the mental health effects of the pandemic. This is especially important for people who are in recovery. When you’re stressed or anxious, your risk for relapse increases, so it’s critical that you stay ahead of your mental health. Here’s how:

Limit your information

It can be tempting to try to constantly keep up with the latest breaking news about the pandemic. But since good news is limited and there is bad news aplenty, checking the headlines constantly is likely to put you into a constant heightened state of stress and anxiety.

So, set boundaries for yourself. Rather than keeping your favorite news site open in your browser, check the news only three times a day: morning, noon, and evening. It’s best to skip the pre-bedtime check so that you don’t have stressful thoughts in your head as you’re drifting off to sleep. If this is still too much, consider scaling back more. If you’re worried about missing something, ask a partner or friend to let you know if anything serious happens that you should be aware of.

Be mindful, however you can

We talk a lot about mindfulness in the recovery community, and it may be more important now than ever. It’s easy to spiral, thinking about everything that is out of your control right now. But, that’s fruitless. It doesn’t solve the problem, it just leaves you feeling stressed out.

Instead, pick an activity where you can be fully immersed in the here and now. Meditation and yoga are great options, but they don’t work for everyone. It’s okay if your mindfulness practice is as simple as a walk in the neighborhood, cooking a beautiful meal, or knitting a scarf.

A good exercise to help you connect with the present moment is to check in with each of your senses. What is something you see? Smell? Hear? Taste? Feel? Naming the sensation you’re experiencing can help ground you.

Get moving

Right now, gyms and even many beaches are closed, so it can be tempting to stay at home and not exercise. But, exercise is great not just for your body, but for your mind as well. The endorphins that your body releases when you exercise can help control and limit cortisol (the stress hormone).

It’s okay to take it easy. Go for a walk, or do a ten-minute online workout at home. The key is to incorporate a bit of movement into each day. If you’re having trouble motivating yourself, ask a friend to be your virtual exercise buddy. You can do your own home workouts and then check in with each other, or talk to each other on the phone while you’re on a walk.

Seek help when you need it

Many Americans are avoiding emergency or routine care because of the pandemic. But if you are feeling overwhelmed by your anxiety or depression, it’s critical that you reach out for professional medical help. Many services can be delivered via telemedicine right now, and you can even get a prescription delivered to your home.

Of course, if you’re experiencing a mental health emergency, go to the ER as soon as possible. Hospitals have protocols in place to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 if you need to seek other medical care.

Getting through this pandemic is stressful for everyone. People in recovery might feel like they’re especially vulnerable, but the truth is that you’re experienced. You’ve already been through times that felt overwhelming, and persevered. You’ll do the same this time.

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