Why is COVID-19 Impacting Your Mental Health?

While most coverage of COVID-19 is focused on its impact on physical health, the pandemic is having a profound effect on mental health as well. Not only are mental health professionals seeing symptom exacerbations in current patients, but many others who did not previously struggle with mental health issues are beginning to do so.

One of the reasons for the elevated anxiety and depression is the increased exposure to troubling information. For example, many people have alerts on their phones to remind them to watch the live streams of local, state, and national press conferences that occur almost daily. These same individuals might have only checked their local news briefly once a day prior to the pandemic. While this obsessive news consumption can provide temporary feelings of control, it often leads to increased feelings of anxiety, apprehension, and depression as consumers are constantly bombarded with negative imagery and information about situations over which they have little control. This can lead to a cycle in which an individual continues to increase news consumption in an attempt to relieve anxiety, but instead it only worsens the anxious feelings.

Another factor in the deterioration of mental health is the feeling of uncertainty that is created as communities lose reliable access to needed goods and services. People do not trust that they will have bread, toilet paper, or medication when they need it. This is coupled with a declining economy, job loss or insecurity, and social distancing measures that will extend for an unknown amount of time. All of this uncertainty increases feelings of anxiety as it makes it difficult for people to feel prepared to handle the future. In addition to the economic stressors, families are seeing their routines completely changed and are having to quickly develop a “new normal” as children are no longer in school and many parents who are still employed are working from home. This will cause any relational conflicts to be amplified, further taxing existing coping strategies.

As existing coping systems become strained, many people are also facing barriers to the coping strategies they employ. Gyms are closed. Parks are closed. Friends are cut off from one another. Doctors’ offices are closed, moving online, or diverting resources to COVID-19. People may see delays in receiving their medications. Routines are seriously disrupted; sleep is affected. This means that many people cannot effectively utilize coping skills that were successfully keeping them mentally healthy. It is likely that we will see an increase in substance use as some people turn to unhealthy coping strategies to fill in these gaps.

All is not lost, however. We are not destined to develop a mental illness. One thing that many people have working for them currently is that there is more free time that can be used to create healthy habits. Many therapists are moving their practices online in an attempt to offer support and help with the development of healthy coping skills. The new-found freedom in your schedule is an excellent opportunity to begin an at home fitness program, go for a walk, read a book, or begin journaling.

A change in perspective is sometimes all that is needed to change a situation.

Try and stop focusing on all the things you cannot do right now and instead try and focus on the things you can do. Try to limit your news consumption, and maybe check in once or twice a day. Try to create a routine or schedule while at home and stick to it. Most importantly, try to manage your expectations of yourself and others. This is an unprecedented event that has not been seen in our lifetimes. It is perfectly understandable that there will be a learning curve as we adapt to the new necessities of life right now.