The COVID-19 outbreak has changed what we thought of as normal. It has brought unprecedented challenges to our livelihoods, systems, businesses, world trade and more. It excludes nothing. The pandemic has placed us in a situation where we are taught to deal and dwell in a time of uncertainty. It has brought changes which have disrupted the flow of our habitual activities, wrought financial difficulties and kept us at a distance from one another.
Due to the rapid rise in numbers, we were instructed to live under strict guidelines. We were forced to be quarantined for months. Most of us kept ourselves updated with the news. However, we were only left agitated by inconceivable headlines.
Inevitably, all of these events have taken a very real toll on our mental health.
Our Mental Health During This Pandemic
This current global situation has led us to ponder Darwin’s concept of survival of the fittest. The idea simply describes how organisms who can immediately adjust to environmental changes are the ones who would most likely survive and reproduce. It is a competition: a struggle for existence.
Today, this has become relatable. Each individual is wired to process and respond uniquely to change. However, with the pressure that comes from this pandemic, we are limited to just two options. We are forced either to face transitions and cope accordingly, or else be left behind by everyone.
There is no instruction manual on how to ease up adjustments during a pandemic. Due to this, we were all left to lean on coping mechanisms.
People Living With Pre-existing Psychological Conditions
This pandemic is a more difficult time for people who are already suffering with mental health conditions. It has also triggered mental health problems in other people.
Surveys indicate a significant increase in the number of US adults who are experiencing mental health conditions. These results were compared with those prior to the chaos. More of the recent participants reported symptoms of detrimental stress, anxiety and depression.
Some people have increased their alcohol and drug use. This has served as their strategy to deal with the new-found mental stress brought on by the outbreak. However, the reality is that these substances may worsen anxiety and depression.
Apibhs.com reported that secrecy and stress can be two of the largest contributors to addictive behaviors. Various factors such as sudden job loss, irregular income and minimal access to support have led individuals to regress into harmful coping behaviors. Alarmingly, if people are already suffering from substance abuse disorders, then this transition acts as a reason to sink back into the spiral.
The Power of Habits
Habits are defined as the small choices you make and the actions you perform every day, whether these are done consciously or not. These are repeated, default activities we have incorporated into our routines. Due to their constancy, habits can affect the quality of your day or even your entire life.
During this uncertain time, our mental health habits and routines may keep us steady and sane. These activities are predictable actions that can make us feel in control. Hence, it is pertinent to take a closer look at our habits. It is essential that we assess whether these choices have been maintaining our mental health or causing further damage to it.
The Effects of the Pandemic to Our General Mental Health Habits
With all the abrupt changes and adjustments, the pandemic has inevitably influenced our general mental health habits. Here are the noticeable effects:
1. Eating habits
Diet is such an important component of mental health. It emerged as an entire field of medicine named nutritional psychiatry. Among all of our daily habits, our diet may be considered as one of the most natural activities in our routine. For this reason, we tend to forget to check whether or not our food choices are healthy for us.
Eva Selhub, MD, Contributing Editor of Harvard Health Blog stated that diets high in refined sugars, for instance, are harmful to the brain. Alongside the fact that these aggravate your body’s insulin management, the foods that you consume may also enhance inflammation and oxidative stress. Multiple studies have reported a link between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — even symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.
Inevitably, during the peak of the outbreak, the majority of us have become nonchalant with our eating habits. People have attempted to stuff themselves with comfort food to alleviate stress. With the accessibility of online food services, many have turned to binge eating and drinking alcohol. This may have in turn worsened anxiety and triggered feelings of depression.
Nonetheless, this was not what occurred to everyone. While others opted for food deliveries, some have taken the free time to improve their cooking, and prepare healthier meals at home. The kitchen has become a haven of calm and nourishment. Cooking and baking trends during the quarantine became creative outlets in releasing anxiety. Also, with the accessibility of online nutritious recipes, people were starting to look more carefully at their meal choices.
2. Sleep Patterns
The quality of our sleep has a big impact on our mental health. It may easily affect our mental state and performance. Due to this pandemic, people who were already suffering from psychological conditions may have had more trouble sleeping. It was reported that insomnia could amplify the impact of psychiatric disorders, and vice versa.
Sleep deprivation may activate stress hormones, which in turn impair thinking and emotional management. The turmoil that accompanied this outbreak has led many people to encounter sleep difficulties. It has created challenges even for those people who had not encountered these problems before. Hence, lack of sleep has become prevalent.
Notably, there were people who utilized the quarantine to make up for months of being sleep-deprived. They have maximized the time to finally tune out and slumber. However, some have been tempted to frequently oversleep. These individuals were likely irritable, groggy and distracted throughout the day. This has posed problems to productivity and energy management.
People transitioned to working remotely in order to continue business operations. With this new arrangement, many are left to deal with the adjustments of working from home. Counter tops have been turned into work stations, and living areas transformed into offices. Additionally, with the pressure brought on by daily deadlines, people are now leading much more sedentary lives.
Although movement is one of the most effective ways to develop both physical and mental health, this was not the case for some people during the quarantine. Jacob Meyer, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, claimed that physical activity can help alleviate or enhance conditions of depression. However, people’s sedentary lifestyles during the quarantine may have exacerbated mental problems. Once mental health is thrown out the window, it becomes challenging to find the motivation to exercise.
Despite this, it is remarkable how there were many individuals who maximized the lockdowns to get back into shape. Amid workloads and other responsibilities, some people were able to recognize the importance of exercise. With the surge of online fitness programs, many have started to get more active indoors. People have learned that exercise is a healthy way to boost their mood. It was their outlet to release stress, improve their energy and wellbeing.
4. Media consumption
Media consumption is a habit which the majority of us fall into. Information keeps us connected, and allows us to temporarily feel less anxious. However, constantly watching television and refreshing our news feeds may provide the exact opposite effect, especially when every headline is a statistic.
Jacqueline Bullis, PhD, a clinical psychologist in McLean Hospital’s Center of Excellence in Depression and Anxiety Disorders claimed that during this pandemic, watching the news may lead us to believe that if we have sufficient information, we can control what occurs. Unfortunately, the reality is that it’s impossible to be certain of the future or the nature of COVID-19.
Studies have reported that screen-time before bed can also lead to sleep disturbances. This may in turn leave us vulnerable to anxiety, mood dips, and irritability.
The ever-increasing COVID-19 numbers may aggravate people’s anxiety towards the virus. We are loaded with unnecessary information, and it scares us – naturally. Overconsumption of the news may make us feel out of control, and paralyzed as to what to do next.
This pandemic has thrown us different challenges. In lieu of its spotlight, we may want to follow the latest news in order to keep ourselves updated. However, it’s important to create boundaries and select information to consume in order to not become overwhelmed.
5. Self-care habits
Life in lockdown has allotted us time to care for ourselves, and to look for hobbies that keep us grounded amid the global situation. Among our everyday habits, self-care should always be a priority.
The pandemic has taught us the importance of self-care and how it affects our mood, thoughts, and wellbeing. As we’ve stayed indoors, we’ve come to realize that self-care practices don’t have to be expensive. They can be as simple as taking a bath, cleaning, reading books, journaling and meditating. All of these activities allow us to relieve stress and to feel calm. They also keep us occupied and productive as we spend our time locked away.
These habits can be incorporated in our routines, which allows us to look forward to them. Routines provide us structure, the feeling of predictability and sense of control despite today’s uncertainty. Likewise, these self-care habits serve as our outlets when we want to vent out the energy built up within. With all the fear that’s surrounding the situation, we need to have habits that function as our buffer.
6. Keeping connections
This pandemic has placed all of us under lock and key. It has kept us away from our family, friends and loved ones. It was very alarming how physical contact such as a hand-shake or a hug suddenly became something to be scared of.
However, the impact of social distancing varied from person to person. It may have been amplified for those with pre-existing psychological conditions. Particularly those people who were already vulnerable to stress and anxiety. Likewise, older adults and people living alone may lack the necessary support to cope during this time. Studies imply that while loneliness and isolation may be different, both can still produce a harmful impact on our health in various ways.
Despite this, we must connect to thrive. Despite our personality types – introvert or not – we are basically beings who crave connection. This is fundamental in order to cope healthily, and to look for the positive during this time. Ultimately, social distancing does not imply social disconnection. This restriction should instead serve as a challenge for us to look for other ways in which we can stay connected to one another.
“A Sound Mind In A Sound Body”
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with different sets of challenges. It has affected our mental health habits in various ways. Because of this, it is essential to establish and preserve mental health habits which cushion us against various stressors.
Some of the mentioned practices can also be habits in maintaining physical health. It is important to take note that our physical health plays as an anchor to our mental health. Hence, the two must be in harmony. With these healthy habits, we may all achieve a sound mind in a sound body.
Stress will not evaporate into the air immediately after this crisis ends. These habits may not just serve as our buffers, but also boost our ability to manage daily challenges.
The task of maintaining these habits may not be easy – especially during this time. However, it is pertinent that we bear in mind the essence of these practices. Healthy habits allow us to gather strength and refuel, as we deal with the mandated adjustments and transitions. These are simply some small actions which we can all do to take care of our mental space.