How to stay mentally healthy during COVID-19?

We live in unusual times. In January 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of a new coronavirus disease - COVD-19.  

The COVID-19 pandemic and the following national quarantine has changed life as we know it. Many of us have spent the recent weeks confined at our homes. Trips and entertainment activities are postponed. While the business and social interactions have moved online or are happening from a 2-meter distance.

Going beyond what we considered normal is generating a natural stress response for many. Here’re five expert strategies and best practices to help you cope with stress in these unusual times.

1. Take breaks from the news

“Minimize watching, reading or listening to news about COVID-19 that causes you to feel anxious or distressed,” advises WHO, adding it’s important to seek information only from trusted sources and mainly so that you can take practical steps to prepare your plans and protect yourself and your loved ones.

If you find yourself constantly scrolling and avidly digesting COVID-19-related news, try limiting it to specific times once or twice during the day. Thus, you’ll build a habit and avoid a sudden and near-constant stream of news reports, which can cause anyone to feel worried, according to experts.


2. Stay physically active

Let’s face it: sedentary behavior and low levels of physical activity can have a negative impact on our physical and mental health. 

Regular exercise can be an effective strategy for coping with stress. WHO recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week, or a combination of both. Here’re some practical tips on how to stay active (with no special equipment and limited space):

  • Take short active breaks during the day – stretching, dancing, playing with the kids, or gardening are all good exercise options.

  • Follow an online class – there’s plenty of free resources on YouTube – from yoga sessions to cardio and strength exercise classes, which doesn’t require equipment. A few ideas here and here. It might also be the case that the sports center you were visiting is now posting classes online so that you can keep practicing with your group through digital platforms.  Moreover, many sport centers publish free videos on their Facebook pages. 

  • Organize or participate in trainings with colleagues - at Campus X, for example, we’ve organized invigorating 40-45 min no-equipment workouts on Zoom, led by fellow members, some of whom certified instructors.

  • Keep walking even in small spaces like your apartment. More tips? Walk around while in an online meeting/call and maintain a safe distance (2 meters) if you take a walk outside.

  • Stand up whenever possible – consider using a high table or stack other materials to work standing and/or remember to stand up regularly from your desk.

Check out WHO’s full guide on staying physically active during self-quarantine here.


3. Eat well and stay hydrated

Nutritious food is vital for optimal physical and mental well-being. Yet, the term healthy has been exploited in relation to various dietary regimes, which are often in controversy with each other. 

In the context of the current situation, WHO has issued general food and nutrition tips to help you maintain what they define as good nutrition, including the following:

  • Make a plan write down what you need to avoid panic-buying behavior and food waste. Thus, you can also make sure you have all the necessary products to cook a nutritious meal.

  • Maintain a balanced diet, consuming a minimum of 400 g (i.e. 5 portions) of fruits and vegetables per day, as well as enough proteins and fiber. To ensure adequate fiber intake, aim to include vegetables, fruit, pulses, and wholegrain foods (including oats, brown pasta, and rice, quinoa, etc., rather than refined grain foods like white pasta and bread). Proteins can be found in foods like whole eggs, dairy, fish lean meat, legumes, and others. As far as fats are concerned, the WHO recommends avoiding saturated and trans fats from highly processed foods and prefer foods, containing healthy sources of unsaturated fats like fish and nuts.

  • Stay hydrated – water is the healthiest and cheapest drink and should be preferred to sugar-sweetened beverages.

  • Seek experts recommendations - at Campus X, we’ve recently invited a seasoned Fitness Nutrition Specialist and Certified Trainer to share his experience. Thus, our members learned essential nutritional tips and tricks, which help them stay fit during the quarantine.


4. Relax and pay attention to your feelings

Here’re a few practical ways to relax:


  • Use relaxation strategies that worked for you in the past – taking deep breaths, stretching, meditation, or engaging in pleasurable hobbies like painting or writing, among others.

  • Do fun/relaxing things after a hard task to pace yourself between highly stressful activities.

  • Pay attention to your feelings – recognize early signs of stress and connect with others who might be experiencing the same. Talk about your feelings with loved ones and seek professional help if necessary.

“Know that feeling stressed, depressed, guilty, or angry is common after an event like an infectious disease outbreak, even when it does not directly threaten you,” the experts say.

More actionable tips from the World Economic Forum (WEF) are available here.

Back in February, we’ve also hosted an event with leading Bulgarian psychologists, who provided effective instruments to manage stress in everyday life. Now they share live video tips on how to relax in times of crisis. Check them out and see what works for you.

5. Stay connected

Nurturing supportive social contacts is crucial in times of crisis. Strong family ties and supportive friends can help to deal with stressful situations. 


If health authorities have recommended limiting face to face contact, you can still stay connected via telephone, social media, video conference, and other digital channels. Setting aside some time to bond with your team is important too. There’s no shortage of possibilities – from knowledge sharing and quiz sessions to virtual lunches and coffee breaks.

“Caring for others is often an important part of keeping up relationships with people close to you. It can even bring you closer together,” states the advice of the British Mental Health Foundation.

Resources


Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak, WHO

Stay physically active during quarantine, WHO

Food and nutrition tips during self-quarantine, WHO

Coping with Disaster, CDC, the USA

Coping With Stress During Infectious Disease Outbreaks, SAMHSA, the USA

Looking after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak, Mental Health Foundation, the UK

Managing mental health during coronavirus, WEF

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