By Lisa Mann, PA-C, HNI Healthcare at Park Royal Hospital
The first step of addressing a mental health challenge is acknowledging that it’s there.
We often make valiant attempts to act as though everything’s fine in order to keep powering through our daily lives. As we’re bombarded with frightening headlines and anecdotal stories, our brains may be desperately reaching for an appropriate response to the COVID-19 threat.
But with a pandemic where the best course of action is to stay home and do nothing, we often find ourselves struggling with the natural desire to do something to feel more prepared. That nagging feeling of unease, constantly reinforced by various forms of media and the brain’s need to address it, helped lead to our seemingly bizarre toilet paper shortage.
While I can’t offer you the answers I so desperately crave myself – such as, “when will this be over?” and, “will my loved ones be affected?” – I’d like to offer some advice on how to best care for your mental health as our nation faces this unprecedented crisis. Oddly enough, your brain does not always gravitate toward what’s best for it.
Here are some ways to keep it on track.
Social media – and, often, media in general – can be insidious. It’s unbelievably easy to sign in to check something specific and subsequently fall into the trap of spending hours reading stories about tragic outliers or concerning projections about the economy. It’s important to acknowledge that there’s a difference between being informed and sending yourself down an anxiety spiral.
Unfortunately, the distinction between the two isn’t always so clear. During these times, you may find it best to cut back on social media usage and limit yourself to checking a reliable source (the CDC, Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, etc.) once or twice daily. If you find yourself still battling anxiety, exercise is a great way to burn off the excess energy. Something as simple as a walk can make a great difference in your mood.
There’s a reason many retirees encounter depression shortly after they stop working. When your average day’s typical tasks and challenges suddenly disappear, your mind can decide to wander to uncomfortable places in its newfound idle time. Keeping busy is a great counterattack.
The first step is to make sure you aren’t sabotaging yourself by spending the day in sweatpants and an old T-shirt that has a light dusting of Doritos crumbs. Keeping up with your daily grooming routine can make a world of difference.
Next, clear your space of dirt and clutter. Once you have yourself situated, you can start planning out your day. This comes down to personal preference, as some people benefit from a loosely made to-do list and others thrive on the structure of a detailed schedule.
Regardless of what you choose, give yourself time to work on hobbies old and new. Reach out to family and friends, utilizing the many technological bridges available to us. Most important, allow yourself to take advantage of this newfound spare time in whichever way benefits you. If you need to cry, let it out. If you need to vent your frustrations, have at it! And for all my Type A personalities following along, don’t convince yourself that you need to learn a new language or accomplish some other tremendous feat during this quarantine. You’ve got enough on your mind as it is.
About Lisa Mann, PA-C
Lisa is a physician assistant currently practicing inpatient psychiatry in Fort Myers, Florida. She received her bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from the University of Miami and her master’s in physician assistant studies at Nova Southeastern University. Her primary focuses are general psychiatry, acute psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, and addiction medicine. Prior to becoming a physician assistant, she worked in telemedicine and helped create programs for telestroke, teletrauma, and telepsychiatry in collaboration with Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.
Lisa’s interest in mental health started at an early age while attempting to understand loved ones’ struggles with depression and addiction. She is passionate about utilizing recent technological advances to expand treatment reach, improve patient outcomes, and remove barriers to care. Her hobbies include plant-based cooking, painting, yoga, reading science fiction, and spending time with her two beagles.