The Other, Co-Occurring Virus and How to Prevent It

Hint: It’s not toilet-paper-hoarding disorder.

While I’ve been spending the bulk of my COVID-19 self-quarantine time at home with my family, there have been several occasions where I’ve needed to venture out by car, an errand, a quick trip to the store, a forgotten needed item at the office. And while I’m out, the constant dialog in my head: “Hurry up, get in, get out, don’t linger, don’t be picky about the head of lettuce! Gotta stay safe!” “Someone’s coming, hold your breath!” “Quick, jump to the other side of the aisle/street/sidewalk, don’t get near them, what if they’re silent carriers!” “Ew, did I really just accidentally touch that, where’d I put the bottle of sanitizer…” “Shoot, I just touched something else while trying to get to the sanitizer…” “I should probably disinfect the bottle of sanitizer…”

Yes, I’m practicing social distancing, yes, I’m trying not to complain about it, and yes, it’s actually pretty stressful. So stressful that it is causing me to constantly think about catching a potentially deadly illness from others a decent distance away from my face and likely not infected themselves. And so stressful that I feel really sad going into stores that used to be cheerful, enjoyable places to spend 15 minutes.

The constant fear. The constant anxiety. The constant reminders that this epidemic is somewhat out of our control. The constant threat of bodily harm. The constant vigilance and suspiciousness. Every allergy-induced cough, every headache, every pain triggering a common first thought: “What if this is COVID-19?!??!” Every unknown person walking by triggering, “What if that person is infected? What if they infect me?”

I see it in myself, and I see it in others out in public. The sad and worried eyes hidden behind masks, the quick darting movements to avoid being near others, the lack of eye contact, the suspiciousness.

The other virus? Mental illness.

The conditions are ripe for developing depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

10 Ways to Preserve Mental Health During This Epidemic

Here are some ways to promote mental health.

  1. Avoid excess media. Choose a time each day to check 1-2 trusted sources of information, and then disconnect from the media. The media focuses on the absolute worst outcomes, the horror stories, to attract an audience. It’s not helpful for mental health right now. 
  2. Practice gratitude. Each evening, reflect on the day. Name 3 things you are grateful for from that day. Even better – share these points of gratitude with family, and listen to what they’re thankful for as well. Which brings us to…
  3. Connect with others, be it family or friends in or out of your household. Even just a quick text to check in and let someone know you’re thinking of them can go a long way. 
  4. Give hugs to those that are inside your social distancing circle. Desired physical touch positively benefits mental health and be soothing, calming, and grounding.
  5. Get adequate sleep. Mood benefits from deep rest, while anxiety and depression can spike from disrupted and inadequate sleep. 
  6. Eat wholesome, nutritious foods: fresh fruits and veggies, meats, poultry, fish, organic dairy, nuts and nut butters, seeds, olive oil, whole grains. Think unprocessed and no added sugar as much as possible.
    Unlike toilet paper, these foods seem to be in abundance. Thankfully.
  7. Exercise. Break a sweat, move your body to support both healthy immune function and your mood.
  8. Get outdoors. Fresh air at a minimum, a green natural setting at best. Being in nature promotes positive mental health.
  9. Shift your mindset to positive. If you find yourself thinking negatively, reframe it. Instead of, “I’m stuck indoors and can’t do what I want to do,” say to yourself, “I’m finding myself with an opportunity to do [x].”
  10. Breathe. If you find yourself upset or anxious, take a few minutes to take in some deep belly breaths. This forces you into a parasympathetic, relaxed mode.

What are you doing to promote positive mental health during this stressful time? Post your techniques and tips in the comments below!

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