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5 Ways to Cope With Mental Illness During a Pandemic

For those of us who live with a mental illness — or a few — daily life can present obstacles that feel more like mountains. Chemical imbalances can make simple tasks overwhelm our brain, causing us to feel anxious or depressed. Add a worldwide pandemic and a stay-at-home order to that, and it’s a recipe for spiraling into a phone-clutching rabbit hole, either to escape the world or obsess over it.

As someone who has lived with mood and anxiety disorders for the better part of my life, I’m overly familiar with the toll it can take. However, as a mental health advocate, I also know some simple practices that work wonders when trying to find some semblance of sanity in an insane time of existence.

That being said, here are five easy (and free) ways to cope with mental disorders during the COVID-19 (or any) pandemic.

  1. 1. Find a Routine That Works For You

    If you’re the person reading this in bed at 3 a.m., I’m looking at you. As a certified night owl, making myself go to bed at the same time every night and wake up promptly the next morning is harder than it sounds. Those of us with depression usually aren’t morning people. But maintaining a regular sleep schedule is a pivotal part of improving mental health, and it’ll help you plan a course for the rest of the day. Keeping your pre-pandemic timetable in tact, or setting a new one, can reduce stress and give you some certainty in a time when there’s little to go around. So unless you work night shifts, find a way to sleep when it’s dark and wake when it’s light. Your brain and body will thank you!

  2. 2. Go Outside Every Day

    Since I moved home, I’ve been going for runs in the park near my house. If exercise isn’t your thing, I totally get it, but it’s still good for your mind and body to get outside and move around, even if that means just taking the dog for a walk or the bike out for a spin. If you have a disability that prohibits you from doing much physical activity, then maybe you could sit outside for a while and soak up some Vitamin D. A little sunshine and fresh air alone can create a noticeable difference in mood. It goes without saying, but you should still maintain a six-foot distance from others whenever you do leave your home.

  3. 3. Socialize, in Whatever Form That Might Take

    When we’re feeling depressed, many of us tend to isolate ourselves. Surprise, surprise, this tends to only make things worse. Unfortunately, the pandemic has left many people in lonely situations. Not everyone lives with others, and plenty of people depend on their daily routines for social interaction. If you’re lucky enough to be in a house full of people, take advantage of it. Have game nights, eat together or just have honest conversations. If you’re on your own, one of the best things you can do is catch up with friends and family on apps like FaceTime and Zoom. Humans are social creatures, and even the introverts among us need quality time with the people they love.

  4. 4. Do Things That Bring You Joy

    It’s easy to get swept up in the doom and gloom of the news right now. While it’s important to stay informed, it’s just as necessary to take a break and focus on the positive. Reading a favorite book, listening to music, watching a funny movie, writing in a journal, drawing or painting, playing with pets or engaging in other hobbies are easy ways to channel your boredom or lack of obligations into something you can enjoy or be proud of. Pro-tip: avoid addictive habits with no real payoff, like mindlessly scrolling through social media, which is shown to cause higher rates of depression.

  5. 5. Be Kind to Yourself

    The world is harsh enough. Right now, perhaps more than ever, it’s important to give yourself reminders that this will not last. Someday it will all be over, and the world will go back to normal. Until that happy time arrives, just try to take it easy. For once, the rest of the world isn’t going anywhere either. If you’re not sure what it means to treat yourself kindly, just think of yourself as a 5-year-old. Taking care of a child means making sure they get plenty of rest, lots of nutritious food and tons of love. So why wouldn’t you give the same to yourself?

These coping methods are not a cure-all for every mental health situation. Every brain is different, and each individual should do what works for them. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with a mental illness, or think you/they might have one, consider reaching out to a professional for counseling or medication.

For more information, try calling the National Alliance on Mental Illness hotline (800-950-6264) or go to NAMI.org. For help during the Coronavirus pandemic, visit DOL.gov/coronavirus.