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Our thoughts go out to the many family members who have already lost loved ones to the coronavirus. Even if you have not been directly impacted by COVID-19, there is no question that this is impacting the mental health of many of us.
We are seeing lots of people on social media and IRL discussing how coronavirus is making their symptoms of anxiety or depression worse. When you are grieving, your mental and emotional bandwidth are already strained. Adding external stress and instability can be even harder to cope with than it would be otherwise.
From anxiety about the illness itself to concerns about social isolation and reassuring children, we know that this can be a complicated and overwhelming time. Taking care of your mental health during the coronavirus is especially important.
First and foremost, give yourself permission to acknowledge and feel whatever this is bringing up for you and communicate that with your support system. Think through who might be best to support you in whatever you're experiencing, whether that is needing help with practical and logistical issues, to just needed someone to talk to and express concerns.
Some relevant posts here on WYG:
We have some past posts on managing anxiety while grieving that you might find useful in the coming days and weeks (click on the title to read the full post)
- Grief and Anxiety
- The Grief-Coaster: Understanding stress in grief
- Who's In Charge Here? Coping with loss of control
- Media Overload Detox Diet
We also have plenty of ideas for art, journaling, reading, movies, and creative expression coping that you might want to spend time with if you're feeling worried about being cooped up at home (click on the topic for a list of articles):
- Journaling exercises, prompts, and online courses
- Coping through photography
- Kids activities
- Self-care tips for grievers
Some sound advice from others:
The CDC has some advice and resources that are worth a read. You can check out the CDC's full info page here, and below are some highlights we really appreciated:
"The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) may be stressful for people and communities. Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children."
Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations:
The emotional impact of an emergency on a person can depend on the person’s characteristics and experiences, the social and economic circumstances of the person and their community, and the availability of local resources. People can become more distressed if they see repeated images or hear repeated reports about the outbreak in the media.
People who may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis include:
- People who have preexisting mental health conditions including problems with substance use
- People who are helping with the response to COVID-19, like doctors and other health care providers, or first responders.
Reactions during an infectious disease outbreak can include:
- Fear and worry about your own health status and that of your loved ones who may have been exposed to COVID-19
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment plans during an emergency and monitor for any new symptoms. Additional information can be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website.
Coping with these feelings and getting help when you need it will help you, your family, and your community recover from a disaster. Connect with family, friends, and others in your community. Take care of yourself and each other, and know when and how to seek help.
Call your healthcare provider if stress reactions interfere with your daily activities for several days in a row.
Things you can do to support yourself:
- Avoid excessive exposure to media coverage of COVID-19.
- Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
- Make time to unwind and remind yourself that strong feelings will fade. Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories. It can be upsetting to hear about the crisis and see images repeatedly. Try to do some other activities you enjoy to return to your normal life.
- Connect with others. Share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family member. Maintain healthy relationships.
- Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking.
Share the facts about COVID-19 and the actual risk to others. People who have returned from areas of ongoing spread more than 14 days ago and do not have symptoms of COVID-19 do not put others at risk.
Children react, in part, on what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with the COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children. Parents can be more reassuring to others around them, especially children, if they are better prepared.
Not all children respond to stress in the same way. Some common changes to watch for in children:
- Excessive crying and irritation
- Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (e.g., toileting accidents or bedwetting)
- Excessive worry or sadness
- Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
- Irritability and “acting out” behaviors
- Poor school performance or avoiding school
- Difficulty with attention and concentration
- Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past
- Unexplained headaches or body pain
- Use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
There are many things you can do to support your child:
- Take time to talk with your child about the COVID-19 outbreak. Answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child can understand.
- Reassure your child that they are safe. Let them know if its ok if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
- Limit your child’s exposure to media coverage of the event. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.
- Help your child to have a sense of structure. Once it is safe to return to school or child care, help them return to their regular activity.
- Be a role model; take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members and rely on your social support system.
A Coronavirus Comic for Kids
If you are helping young kids understand coronavirus, if can be hard to know how to provide the right amount of direct, relevant information. Kids are probably hearing all sorts of things from friends and adults that they don't fully understand. In the absence of information, kids will do what they do best - make-up stories to fill in the blanks. And sometimes those stories are far scarier than the reality. This can be especially true for kids who have lost loved ones to an illness in the past. We love this comic on by Malaka Gharib that is to help parents talk with their kids.
Staying home for two weeks: a checklist
We love this great checklist shared by Mind.org.uk, a wonderful UK-based mental health support organization. It is to help you think through items that might make it just a little easier to at home for a couple of weeks. This can be vital for protecting your mental health during the coronavirus.
- Food: do you have a way to get food delivered?
- Cleaning: are your cleaning supplies stocked up?
- Money: can you budget for any higher bills or expenses? Will you save money from lower transport costs that you could spend elsewhere?
- Work: can you work from home or not? If not, what are your rights to payment or benefits?
- Medication: do you have enough medication, or a way to get more?
- Health: can you reorganize any planned therapy or treatments?
- Commitments: can someone else help you care for any dependents, walk your dog, or take care of any other commitments?
- Connectivity: have you checked the contact details of the people you see regularly, like their phone numbers or email addresses?
- Routine: can you create a routine or timetable for yourself? And if you live with other people, should you create a household schedule? Do you need to agree how the household will run with everyone at home all day?
- Exercise: is there any physical activity you can do inside your home, such as going up and down the stairs, using bean tins as weights, or exercises you can do in your chair?
- Nature: have you thought how you could access nature? Can you get some seeds and planting equipment, houseplants or living herbs?
- Entertainment: have you thought about things to do, books to read or TV shows to watch?
- Relax: have you got materials so you can do something creative, such as paper and colouring pencils?
Plan with your therapist
Not all therapists are set up for telehealth appointments, but some are. If you are worried about missing several weeks of therapy, check to see if you therapist is able to meet with you online. If not, work with your therapist to make a mental health plan that might include phone check-ins, a safety plan, home activities, and tips and tools to get you through. You may also want to look into other online support resources that might be of use.
You can check out our:
We would love to hear your suggestions and ideas for coping - leave a comment!
We wrote a book!
After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.
You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books: