By Sophia L. Thomas, DNP, FNP-BC, PPCNP-BC, FNAP, FAANP
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this year, it is more critical than ever to pay attention to your mental wellbeing. After more than a year of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects on mental health have been staggering.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly four in 10 adults in the United States have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression as a result of the pandemic. Nearly 36% have reported sleeping issues, 32% have reported eating and appetite issues and 12% have reported worsening chronic conditions due to worry and stress.
The reality of our homes also functioning as workplaces, schools and gyms has taken a toll on many. Add to this the financial stressors caused by layoffs, furloughs and job loss; lack of physical contact with family members, friends and loved ones; and the fear of contracting the virus, and it is clear COVID-19 is impacting our collective mental health — especially for those with pre-existing mental health conditions.
Fortunately, there are things we can all do to take care of our mental health during these challenging times:
- Have a routine. Keeping up with daily routines, like getting dressed every morning, rising at the same time during the week and eating dinner with the family provides balance during troubled times and helps us maintain a sense of normality.
- Stay healthy. Try to get 30 minutes of exercise every day or take walks outside (while maintaining proper social distancing requirements) and maintain a healthy diet.
- Stay connected. Even though social distancing may prevent you from being physically present with some family members and friends, utilizing video chats and phone calls can help you stay connected. This time together can reduce feelings of isolation.
- Minimize exposure to news. Reduce the amount of news you listen to, watch or read, especially if it causes you anxiety. Identify a set time each day when you will read the news to stay informed, and unplug outside of that time.
- Limit alcohol intake. Be sure to limit the amount of alcohol you consume (or cut it out entirely). Alcohol can change the level of serotonin in the brain, which can heighten anxiety.
- Plan “me time.” Set aside time every day to engage in hobbies or activities that you enjoy. During social distancing, people often get consumed by working in their home offices, helping their children with their homework or trying to ensure the needs of their families are met. It is important that you set aside time for you.
Maintaining your mental health is a top priority as communities navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. If you feel overwhelmed, are struggling to sleep or have thoughts of hurting yourself or others, don’t suffer alone. Contact your primary care provider — like a nurse practitioner — or other health care provider, or reach out to any of the national resources below:
- Crisis Text Line. Text TALK to 741741.
- Disaster Distress Helpline. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255.
The end of the COVID-19 pandemic is in sight, thanks to the quick work of the scientific community in developing vaccinations, but the mental trauma can last beyond the reopening of our communities. This Mental Health Awareness Month, shake the stigma associated with self-care and prioritize your mental and emotional wellbeing.