People like certainty. We want to know what is happening and when it’s happening. We are hard wired to notice things that feel threatening to us. When situations feel uncertain or we generally feel unsafe, it is normal to feel stressed. That reaction is there to protect us, and there are strategies you can use to help yourself.
Right now, many of us are worried about COVID-19, “Coronavirus.”
A large part of anxiety comes from a sense of what we think we should be able to control, but cannot. We may feel helpless about what will happen. We may not know what we should do to prevent the spread of Coronavirus or prevent further anxiety. The uncertainty might also connect to similar feelings about other aspects of our lives, or remind us of past times when we felt unsafe or we faced an unknown future.
In times like these, our mental health can suffer, which could show up as periods of:
- Anxiety, worry, panic
- Feeling helpless
- Social withdrawal
- Difficulty concentrating and sleeping
- Hypervigilance to your health and body
Coronavirus is a health issue that is being taken seriously at UNC Chapel Hill and around the world. It makes sense to be anxious but don’t let your worry about the virus control your life. We can choose our response to situations. There are effective ways to manage fear and anxiety; many of them are essential to a healthy life and adopting them can improve overall emotional and physical well-being.
- Get the facts. Stay informed with the latest health and campus information at unc.edu/coronavirus. For further information see the CDC Coronavirus website.
- Separate what is in your control from what is not. Focus on the things you can do:
- Wash your hands. Remind others to wash theirs.
- Eat a variety of nutrient dense foods.
- Move your body every day.
- Get outside.
- Although you will want to keep informed, take a break from the news to focus on the things that are positive in your life and things you have control over.
- Do what helps you feel a sense of safety. This will be different for everyone, and it’s important not to compare yourself to others. It’s ok if you’ve decided what makes you feel safe is to limit attendance of large social events, but make sure you separate when you are isolating based on potential for sickness versus isolating because of depression. Stay mindful of your assumptions about others – someone who has a cough or fever does not necessarily have coronavirus. Self-awareness is important in not stigmatizing others in our community.
- Get outside, ideally in nature – even if you are trying to avoid crowds. I took a walk in my neighborhood with my roommate. We saw a bit of sun, enjoyed fresh air, moved our bodies and spent quality time together. Exercise in nature helps both your physical and mental health.
- Challenge yourself to stay in the present. Perhaps your worry is compounding—you are not only thinking about what is currently happening, but also projecting into the future. When you find yourself worrying about something that hasn’t happened, gently bring yourself back to the present moment. Notice the sights, sounds, tastes and other sensory experiences in your immediate moment and name them. Engaging in mindfulness activities is one way to help stay grounded when things feel beyond your control.
- Stay connected and reach out if you need more support. Talk to trusted friends about what you are feeling. Maintain your social networks using technology. If you are feeling particularly anxious or if you are struggling with your mental health, it’s ok to reach out to a mental health professional for support. You don’t have to be alone with your worry and it can be comforting to share what you are experiencing with those trained to help.
We are in this together, and help is always available. If you’re feeling alone and struggling, you can reach out to CAPS 24/7 at 919-966-3658.
The content for this blog was heavily influenced by UC-Berkeley and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
2 thoughts on “Managing Mental Health During Coronavirus”