Health

Mental Health And COVID-19: How I’ve Been Managing Mine

We are 6 months into COVID-19 being a big deal in America, or at least yesterday, August 13th, was 6 months into me putting myself in lockdown. As I have a very suppressed immune system, I have to take COVID-19 extremely seriously, and in March, my rheumatologist told me that I had to do everything I possibly could to keep myself safe. Between living through the COVID-19 era and having generalized anxiety disorder, my mental health has been something that I have to actively work on. The CDC describes mental health as “our emotional, psychological, and social well-being” (x). In this post, I’m going to share what I’ve been doing for my mental health and COVID-19 in the world.

I am not a mental health provider, or a medical provider of any kind.

Times are hard for everyone right now, for a variety of reasons. In this post, I'm talking about mental health and COVID-19, but specifically about life during the pandemic and not about your mental health if you have COVID-19 (I can't speak to that experience). I'm an immunosuppressed person with generalized anxiety disorder, so the pandemic is extra stressful.

Mental Health and COVID-19: What This Means

What does “mental health” mean?

The thing I see occasionally online is people who think mental health equals mental illness. But mental health is like physical health in that it is a thing that everyone has, even though it wasn’t talked about a lot publicly until recent years. Or at least, it wasn’t a term used until recent years.

The CDC agrees that it is separate from mental illness and says, “Although the terms are often used interchangeably, poor mental health and mental illness are not the same things. A person can experience poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness. Likewise, a person diagnosed with a mental illness can experience periods of physical, mental, and social well-being” (x).

So you can have no mental illnesses but go through a really tough time that makes for not-awesome mental health.

For example, no one has a great time during their college finals season. It’s super stressful. If you live in the dorms, you’re also moving out either for winter vacation or for the summer. You’re also saying goodbye to your friends for a little while and you might be heading home. So pretty much everyone feels awful mentally – aka their mental health is bad at that time – without having a mental illness.

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But how can COVID-19 affect mental health?

Gosh I feel like the bigger question is how couldn’t COVID-19 affect mental health?

We are in a world-wide pandemic, the likes of which haven’t been seen in at least a century.

In the US, at least, we’re still in lockdown.

There are people who basically refused to be in lockdown, which is making this last even longer.

There are people who refuse to wear masks, and many more who aren’t wearing them correctly.

(And in the US, many states and areas reopened way too early. )

There are still people who don’t believe COVID-19 is a real issue.

You get the picture.

And that’s just COVID-specific info!

The CDC says, “During and after a disaster, it is natural to experience different and strong emotions. Coping with these feelings and getting help when you need it will help you, your family, and your community recover from a disaster. Connect with family, friends, and others in your community. Take care of yourself and each other, and know when and how to seek help” (x). I don’t know about you, but a world-wide pandemic like COVID-19 definitely counts as a disaster to me.

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How I’ve Been Managing My Mental Health During COVID

Staying on top of my mental health has been doable, but it definitely has to be intentional. I have generalized anxiety disorder, which I’ve talked about in the past, but my mental health is more than my anxiety disorder. I’m going to talk about how I’m managing my mental health and COVID-19, which is sometimes anxiety-disorder related and sometimes general-life-in-COVID-19-world.

Here’s what I’m doing!

Try to stick to my normal routine as much as possible – This is a little bit tricky, but not too much for me because I’m already a lot of a homebody. So I get up at around the same time I did pre-COVID-19; I do my same morning routine; I’m going to bed a little later than usual, as I don’t have to get up early to take the T to work so I feel okay watching 1 more episode of whatever TV show I’m watching; I try to do the same nighttime routine; you get the picture. Routine is so key for me to manage my anxiety, so I’ve been trying to stick to mine as much as possible.

Force myself to get out of the house to go for walks – I am very fortunate to have been home in Maine since March, and we’re in a very rural town, so I can leave the house to go for walks very safely (with mask in pocket, of course, as although I’ve literally never been close enough to someone when out walking here that would require a mask, I am on immunosuppressants). Doing this has been so beneficial for me as it’s good to get out of the house that you’ve basically been in constantly for 5.5 months, in addition to being in my favorite place in the whole world. I was doing this in Boston in March before coming up here, and it was even more beneficial there for me because I was in an apartment.

Try to do yoga a few days a week – While going for walks is great for the mental benefit of getting out of the house, doing yoga or strength-training exercises is also ideal for me for actual exercise. I’ve worked hard to build muscle over the last year and to get used to regularly exercising for my POTS. Doing yoga several times a week helps me stop the constant monologue in my head that is my anxiety disorder during a global pandemic, so it’s beneficial to my mental health that way, but also the fact that I’m doing something physical helps me feel like I’m not losing all the progress of my POTS exercise protocol.

POTS exercise protocol diaries

How one #immunosuppressed person is dealing with the mental health side of living in the COVID-19 pandemic Click To Tweet

Keeping therapy appointments (virtually) – In general, it helps so much to be able to talk to a professional about everything. The biggest help to me has been having a place where I can talk about all the things that I know are ridiculous for me to be anxious about. But that was pre-COVID; it is extremely rational be anxious about COVID-19, so I’m dealing with that plus my normal anxiety levels. There are different types of therapy, and it’s probably best for the therapists to decide what type you should do. Additionally, you might need to meet with several different people before you find someone who is best for you, so if you’re having a hard time clicking with someone, move on.

Reducing Twitter use – I love Twitter, but in recent months it is invading my life too much when I’m not on the app. To help with that, I turned off my Twitter push notifications, and I try to log off of Twitter a couple nights a week. That is helping me sleep because I hadn’t realized how frequently I try to wind down my night and then find myself opening Twitter. Both of these things have helped a lot!

Focusing on work – I will fully admit that this isn’t the healthiest, but I’ve been focusing a lot on work so that I don’t have time to feel sad about all the people who don’t seem to care about masks or all of the people who have had, currently have, or will have COVID-19. Between my day job and this blog, I’ve had plenty of work to do. Especially because we’re in the middle of my day job’s busiest time of the year!

How has COVID-19 affected your mental health?

Like this post? Check out:

Chronic Illness and Mental Health, 10 Simple Self Care Methods That Will Improve Your Life, The Art of Managing Anxiety

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