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Staying afloat during the mental health challenges of COVID-19

Emma Simpson
Feeling overwhelmed by COVID-19? We talked to two mental health experts about dealing with the challenges that come with a global pandemic.

Pretty much everything about the COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful.

Dr. Arash Javanbakht, director of the Stress, Trauma, and Anxiety Research at Wayne State University, says situations COVID-19 has forced on us create major stress triggers. Stay-at-home orders and social distancing have caused abrupt changes, leaving us feeling a lack of control. Javanbakht and Alison Miller, associate professor of public health at the University of Michigan, gave some advice on how to cope with stress and some tips to get a handle on the situation.

Go on a news diet

Even before there was a worldwide pandemic, the news could seem overwhelming. Now, with countless hours to just sit and scroll, all of the new information can feel crushing. Javanbakht and Miller both recommend keeping a healthy news diet and not constantly checking on new updates.

“Limit your exposure to news, just get what you want to know,” Javanbakht said. “Don’t get obsessed with it. At least give yourself several hours of break from the news.”

Stick to your routines

Working from home or being out of work completely have thrown many people for a loop. One way to mitigate this stress and confusion is for people to try and maintain the schedules they had before COVID-19. Javanbakht says that it’s important to go to bed and wake up as usual and eat at regular mealtimes.

He also heard a creative tip from one of his patients about maintaining a sense of normalcy: keeping your commute schedule!

“In the morning and late in the afternoon, in the time we were supposed to be commuting to work, we now go for a walk every day.”

Kids and parents alike have had their routines thrown off by schools being closed. This can be very stressful for both. Allison Miller recommends parents be aware that this is not a normal time period.

“Take a moment for yourself to de-stress and give yourself a break. Also: to be kind to yourself and forgiving of parenting goals that you have under normal circumstances that you might let slide during these circumstances.”

Stay social

Javanbakht and Miller agree the term “social distancing” can be misleading.

“I would love people to call it 'physical distancing,'” Javanbakht said. “We can be physically distant and safe and not be asocial. The idea of social distancing from other people, not being connected to others is scary to us. We are social creatures.”

He says there are many ways to be social and physically distant: having happy hours with friends over Zoom, exercising at home and FaceTiming their friends. Miller says it’s important to reach out, especially to friends and family you may not talk to as often in regular life.

 Go outside

Miller recommends taking a walk, if possible, and thinking of it as a “restorative activity.”

“If we can go outside, if we can be in a little bit of nature, we also know that from research, looking at nature and experiencing nature can be calming to the biological stress system.”

If you do plan on going outside remember to practice physical distancing, which means staying at least 6 feet away from other people.

You can hear the full conversation above.

This article was written by Stateside production assistant Olive Scott

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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