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How To Take Care Of Your Mental Health During Corona Virus (5 Strategies)
With most of our thoughts right now going toward supplies, finances, and avoiding getting sick, managing our stress is probably the last thing on our minds. However, taking care of your mental health will matter just as much in the coming months. Why? Because..
Stress compromises our immune system becomes. Yes, while it’s true that young healthy adults should have mild symptoms, we should still avoid getting sick, especially because we can pass it to others who are more at risk.
Stress makes us neglect healthy habits. Poor diet, less exercise, too much social media, etc all can further increase our risk of both physical and mental ailments.
Stress makes us dumber. Stress turns off your pre-frontal cortex (the reasonable, rational, logical part of your brain). Stress has been shown to reduce your IQ by up to 15 points. That’s the difference between a PhD and a High school graduate!
By managing our stress well, we can stay healthy and smart. Both are critical to navigate this pandemic as well as help others who are struggling.
So what can you do? Here's 5 tips:
1) Set Limits On Social Media Consumption
It's important to stay informed, but there comes a point where obsessively watching the news or reading /r/coronavirus is doing you more harm than good.
Personally, I have a rule where I am not allowed to problem solve (business, personal, finance, etc) during the four hours before bed, as I will otherwise be up all night thinking. I have added “COVID Research” to this time period. Consider adding a similar rule.
Consider also using screen time on iOS or equivalents on Android (If anyone knows the best one's HMU and I'll update post), or Chrome extensions like StayFocus'd to have your tech force you to cut off activities that are no longer helpful.
2) Make A List Of Your Problems And Cut Out The Low Priority Ones
If you already had a giant list of problems you were worrying about (who doesn't?), this pandemic will tip many from “stressed” into “overwhelmed” and many from “overwhelmed” into “panicked”.
You need to reduce your list of problems back to a manageable level.
Make a list of everything you're worrying about. School, work, family, money, whatever it is — if it's taking up mental energy it goes on the list.
First do the easy ones to get them off your list (wash dishes, take out trash, etc).
Next, cut out the ones that can wait (ex: new, non urgent projects or "should do's" that don't have a deadline or will help you in the next month).
Finally, schedule the big ones that need to get done so you can sit down with focused time and knock them out.
For more on this, see this post.
3) Get Your Energy Out
Whats the difference between being anxious and being energized/excited? Both increase heart rate, cause sweaty palms, increase adrenaline, rapid thinking, tightness in chest, etc. The only difference is in the story you have in your head about it.
Stress and anxiety can be significantly reduced in the same ways that energy and excitement are. What would you tell a 5 year old kid with a bunch of energy who has been cooped up all day to do right now?
Go on a run. Work out. Do push ups. Jumping jacks. Dance. A walk around the block. Whatever works best for you.
Even better, go with a family member and speak about your problems or if this isn’t an option, speak in to a recorder. 2 birds with one stone.
4) DARE Technique
The DARE response is a cutting edge CBT tool that works wonders (I used it to essentially end my own clinically diagnosed anxiety disorder without medication).
The generalized DARE phrase is "Oh well! I accept and embrace these anxious feeling, I accept and embrace these anxious thoughts. I am energized by them, as a I engage with what's in front of me".
Repeating this to yourself for several minutes, reorienting back towards the phrase as you get distracted has been clinically shown to significantly reduce anxiety.
WHY the DARE response works and how to adapt it to specific situations would require an article in itself, however more info (as well as the DARE app) can be found here.
If you are an intermittent mediator, now is the time to pick it back up. If you have never meditated, now may be the time to start.
Apps like Headspace and Calm are offering free anti-stress meditations specifically for this current situation, as well as a giant paid libraries of more targeted ones for productivity, anger, anxiety, sleep, and much more.
Headspace is $5 a year for students and calm may have a similar offer.
NOTE: the first 2 weeks is the hardest for most people as you adjust to doing something that isn't constant thinking. Commit yourself to 5 or 10 minutes a day for 10 days before giving up.