4 Ways to Manage Your Mental Health During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Dana Udall, Ph.D.

Chief Clinical Officer at Headspace Health with 20 years of helping individuals & groups make meaningful change. Working to level the playing field in mental health.

4 Ways to Manage Your Mental Health During the Coronavirus Outbreak

If you’ve been following the news, you’ve likely seen a lot of coverage of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. You might be feeling anxious or stressed about upcoming travel plans, the spread of the virus, your health, or the health of your family. Just as it’s important to take extra precaution to protect your physical health, it’s important to protect your mental health, as well. Here are a few tips to help you to manage stress and maintain resilience.

1. Avoid overexposure to the news

According to a 2018 study, Americans spend an average of 11 hours a day consuming media. While it’s important to stay informed, information overload can lead to extreme behavior in one of two ways — becoming anxious and even obsessive, or becoming numb and desensitized. Both of these outcomes are problematic, since they involve errors in thinking which prevent people from making rational decisions and taking action to protect their health.

Taking media breaks is therefore crucial. If your job requires you to regularly interact with the news, as is the case for journalists and other media professionals, it can be helpful to schedule time in advance to intentionally disconnect. Spend these breaks doing something that fuels and restores you, whether that’s talking with friends, making a cup of tea, or going on a walk.

2. Seek information from credible sources

Unlike a well-known illness like the flu, public health officials are only now beginning to understand COVID-19. For the layperson, this uncertainty can give rise to intense anxiety, given that our brains are wired to pay special attention to threats that are new. When we don’t have information, we tend to think of worst-case scenarios and turn to those closest to us for information. Though well-intentioned, non-experts don’t often have a full grasp of the facts, which means the information they share may be colored by their own beliefs and experiences. To get the most accurate (and actionable) information, turn to credible sources like the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) — and share these sites with your loved ones to help them get accurate information, too.

3. Seek out support

Instead of scrolling through the news, it can be helpful to reach out to loved ones who can provide a sense of comfort and connection during times of stress. However, just as it’s important to be selective about your media sources during this time, it makes sense to do the same with your social interactions. If you find that interacting with a certain friend or family member increases your anxiety (for instance, if they are feeling highly stressed themselves), it might be best to limit conversations with them.

If feelings of anxiety are negatively impacting your work, relationships, or daily functioning, seek professional support. Coaches or therapists trained in the area of anxiety management can help you understand whether your thoughts are based in reality or distorted, and help you take concrete steps to get back on track.

4. Make yourself laugh

When we’re stressed, we tend to get into cycles of gloomy thinking and negative self-talk. Break that cycle by introducing humor into your day — whether that’s by telling a great dad joke, playing a silly game, or watching a funny clip. Laughter works because it releases endorphins, the chemicals in your body that make you feel good. And, though not studied in conjunction with COVID-19, there is evidence that laughter may improve resistance to disease due to its impact on the body’s immune response.

By using credible sources to stay informed, seeking out support, and taking extra time to care for yourself, you’ll be better equipped to manage stress and effectively protect your health and the health of those around you.