Understandably, as the COVID-19 pandemic upends life for many, many communities the world over, sharp focus is placed upon the physical aspect of this virus and the disease it can cause. With that said, human health and wellness is comprehensive and not only involves a physical aspect but emotional and mental elements as well. Consequently, a focused consideration on the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people from all walks of life must be considered. The focus is an essential component of protecting your mental wellbeing during this global health crisis. 

As part of a concerted effort to better educate mental health professionals specifically and the public at large more generally, an important panel presentation was conducted by PsychU entitled The Mental Health Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The presentation included a trio of highly regarded mental health and associated professionals:

  • Paul Gionfriddo, President of Mental Health America
  • Christine Moutier, MD, psychiatrist and Chief Medical Officer for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
  • Stephen Murray, PharmD., MBA, Senior Medical Science Liaison for Otsuka Pharmaceutical Development & Commercialization, Inc.

The Mental and Emotional Challenges of Social Distancing

One of the most fundamental strategies being utilized in the United States, and in other locations around the world, to contain the spread of COVID-19 and to keep uninfected people safe is what has become commonly known as social distancing. Social distancing as a strategy was a prime area of discussion between these mental health authorities. 

At the outset, an important point was made that in fact people really are not being called upon to practice social distancing. Rather, they are being directed to remain physically separated. Thus, this panel of esteemed mental health professionals makes the argument that a better term for this process is physical distancing. 

The stark reality is that many individuals with an array of different types of mental health conditions tend to isolate as a result of their conditions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, working to avoid compelling these individuals to isolate even further is an important object. 

In addition, when placed into a situation in which people without a prior mental health condition believe they are taxed with social isolation, they can develop some sort of issue. The most common types of mental health conditions that are likely to develop in such a scenario are depression and anxiety. 

Physical distancing appropriately can be accomplished at the same time enhance social interaction even when physically separated from others can be encouraged and even facilitated. The panelists spoke of what are known as virtual neighborhoods, congregations of people that come together via cyberspace to support one another on a recurring and consistent basis. The concept of virtual neighborhood has been under development and refinement over the past decade. While not a new concept, it is one that ideally is suited to a point in time when we’re being called upon to physically distance ourselves from one another. 

We can be socially connected while physically distant in no small way through the use of the various types of technology available to us today. Of course, social media platforms can be somewhat helpful in this regard, but there is more available than those widely used virtual gathering spaces.

A considerable segment of the population makes use of smartphones. These and other devices make visual as well as audio interactions possible. The added element of seeing someone enhances the overall social connection to that person. 

There are also different types of applications like Zoom that are being used for more diversified purposes. These types of platforms allow for the coming together of multiple people at the same time in an audio and visual format. While Zoom and similar technologies initially were intended for webinars and professional connectivity, the platform is now being used for other purposes, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, Zoom is making its technology available at no cost during this health crisis as a means to get and keep people connected for a variety of purposes.  

Concrete Strategies to Protect Your Mental and Emotional Wellness During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A key element of the presentation on protecting your mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic was a discussion of a few, concrete strategies that can be helpful during this period of physical distancing. A few important tactics were presented as opposed to a voluminous laundry list of things. There is nothing earth-shattering about any of these suggestions and undoubtedly are tactics that we’ve all likely heard more than once. 

At the top of the strategic list was the recommendation to be a “student of yourself.” Do your best to focus in on how you mentally tick. Identify what makes you happy, sad, and (significantly) stressed.

Even during these challenging days, living a balanced life is key. Social media is roaring with memes about people abandoning everything from healthy eating to regular exercise to proper hygiene while we’re involved in physical distancing and spending time secured in our homes. We must obtain regular and sufficient sleep, regular and appropriate exercise, and maintain a healthy diet. 

You must also engage in activities every day that you enjoy. Schedule a specific time for these endeavors on your calendar so that they are not overlooked or pushed aside because of some other obligation. 

Stay grounded in facts. If you want information about COVID-19, obtain it from an entity like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You might want to consider limiting the amount of news you consume on a daily basis as a means of preventing even additional uncertainty and stress. 

Establish morning routines similar to what you followed before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, physical distancing, and stay at home recommendations and orders. For example, give serious consideration to getting dressed for the day as if you were going to be out and about in the world, even when you will be at home. 

Seriously contemplate what is and is not within your control. Take control of the things you are capable of controlling and be mindful enough to understand that you simply cannot alter other matters. You can plan your day in a constructive manner. You cannot control the rollercoaster of information and misinformation spewing out 24 hours a day on the internet and cable television. 

Finally: Retain a sense of hope. This, too, will end.