Mental health matters just as much in fighting COVID-19

Ana Park, Reporter

Many people, including California Lutheran University students, may be struggling with their mental health due to the significant stressors involved with COVID-19. 

Some helpful suggestions on maintaining a positive mental headspace while COVID-19 exists and especially during social distancing includes trying to keep to your routine, practicing physical and mental self-care, and staying connected with your loved ones.

According to the U.K.’s Mental Health Foundation, mental health can also affect your physical health, as stress can negatively affect your immune system.

The Center for Disease Control recognizes that COVID-19 is causing high stress levels for people due to worry for themselves and others which can lead to reduced sleep, increased alcohol or drug consumption and worsening existing health conditions. 

In an interview with PBS NewsHour, public health officials and mental health experts explained that while social distancing is extremely important for slowing the spread of the virus, it can have a devastating effect on the mental health of those practicing it.

Los Angeles area neuropsychologist Ann Simun said there are five ways to support your immune system and reduce the likelihood of being ill: 

  1. Get enough sleep, which is eight hours for adults and nine to 10 for teenagers. 
  2. Stick to a schedule or routine, even if it is not your normal one.
  3. Get the proper nutrition by eating small meals several times per day, balancing food groups and consuming minimal processed sugar including sodas and sports drinks.
  4. Engage in regular exercise including walking, yoga and calisthenics or lifting weights.
  5. Manage your mental stress, possibly by engaging in enjoyable activities and avoiding stress when possible.

The first thing you should do to combat anxiety regarding COVID-19 is to be cautious but not ‘panicky,’ and to educate yourself on the best ways to avoid catching the virus. 

The CDC recommends staying home or away from the public as much as possible, staying at a six-foot distance from other individuals, and regularly washing your hands and sanitizing your surroundings. 

Besides that, the most important part of keeping yourself healthy, both mentally and physically, is practicing self-care and staying connected to your social circle, while adhering to the health guidelines. 

If at all possible, stick to your normal routine. Most people do better when they have a schedule or a plan, and it can help keep you focused and productive instead of feeling like you do not have a purpose. 

The CDC also encourages downtime. Watch a few episodes of your favorite show, read that new book you bought, play some video games or spend a few hours on a hobby of your choice. My favorite thing to do is to take my dogs for a walk, then cuddle with them on the couch and watch TV. 

Cal Lutheran senior psychology major, Sofia Herrera said the main thing she’s doing to help her mental health is “taking care of myself by doing things like yoga, cooking a particularly yummy meal, or engaging in some hobbies like video games, cross-stitch, or reading comics and manga.”

Everyone is different and you know yourself best. 

Find something that relaxes you or that you enjoy doing and make time to do it. Use that face mask you have had forever, play with your pet, go for a run, eat your favorite junk food, work out, listen to your favorite album or work on your art. 

Do something that makes you happy, and avoid things that negatively impact your mental health. 

That could mean staying away from news sites unless necessary, only checking once every day or having a friend update you on safety precautions and restrictions. It could mean coordinating with your professors or boss when you are not up to working or participating in class that day.

Prioritize yourself and your mental health, everyone is struggling with this crisis and things are more flexible than normal, but you have to communicate. 

Lastly, stay connected with your friends and family, whether that means social distancing in your home with them, emailing, calling or video chatting with those who are further away. 

Loneliness is the opposite of fun, and keeping in contact with the people you care about can be a big mental health boost. 

A lot of games have multiplayer options, often with a chat feature, and Google Chrome even has an extension called Netflix Party that synchronizes your show and adds a group chat. So even if your friend is across the country you can still watch your favorite show together and discuss it.

“Maintaining your mental health is hard as it is, make sure to be kind to yourself during this time,” Herrera said. “Don’t beat yourself up for feeling whatever you’re feeling. Allow yourself the time to sort out your feelings.”