Self-care and continuing to cope with COVID-19 as the one-year mark approaches
Nearly a year ago, March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, and the world began to change. Massachusetts, along with the rest of the country and the world, began to implement restrictions to protect public safety, and isolation and financial strain followed. In being safe and preventing spread to our loved ones, we were and still are separated from them. In addition to this strain on our support system, we have suffered deaths: more than 500,000 in the United States and nearly 16,000 in Massachusetts over the last year alone. Many who have survived the illness have ongoing health consequences. But death is not the only thing that we are grieving. The loss of our routine, normalcy, physical and social connection to others, to name a few. It is just as important now as throughout the past year to make sure we are taking care of ourselves and continuing to take inventory of our emotional and physical health so that we may reach out for additional support should we need it.
As we come up on the one-year anniversary, and vaccines begin to roll out across both the country as well as the world, many are anticipating and feeling hopeful about a return to normalcy. Statistics have shown that mental health issues and diagnoses have increased within the last year, with grief, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse all rising substantially. Mental health experts are also warning of the coming rise in what is being termed , for both those who survived the disorder and many others who will struggle coping with the aftershocks of the disruption of day-to-day life. , with the highest reported rate of increase in anxiety, depression, and substance use. There is also a heightened risk of PTSD for those who have survived the coronavirus, as highlighted in from Medlife.
In short, this is a hard time for everyone. We have said this before, but self-care is not a luxury, it is an absolute necessity. The best way to prepare for what lies ahead is to actively prioritize your physical and mental health now. We have several self-care tips we wanted to summarize here:
- Proactively check in with yourself, particularly if you are predisposed to depression. Spring often sees a surge in depressed feelings and even suicidal thoughts and feelings. Anniversaries can also be a significant trigger in this area and with the anniversary of our world being drastically changed and impacted by COVID-19, it is imperative that we all be vigilant for signs of worsening “COVID-19 burnout”. Reach out for help, informal or professional, if you see more bad days than good.
- Eat three full meals a day, do not skip breakfast, and do not work through meals. Drink 6-8 glasses of water a day. Without the fuel your body needs, your physical and mental health will lower.
- Take regular breaks to stand up, stretch, and go for a short walk, especially if you work a job that keeps you at your computer most of the day. Long periods of inactivity can be sedating and contribute to low mood.
- Set aside 30 minutes a few days a week to exercise. Go for a walk, find a bodyweight exercise routine online, or sign up for an online yoga class.
- Adhere to a regular time to go to sleep. Aim for at least seven hours. Thirty minutes before bed, put away your phone and stay off the big screens, the blue light can keep you awake longer in bed.
- Avoid regular and excessive use of alcohol, it lowers health and depresses your mood.
- Try to maintain a regularly scheduled, safe connection with loved ones. After the beginning of the pandemic, we often hear that group social meetings and calls have fallen off. We encourage people to continue making the effort.
- Be mindful of your social media use. Constant social media and news site scrolling without stopping can be bad for your health by contributing to anger, anxiety, and a sense of being overwhelmed. Set an allotted amount of time, 1-2 hours at most, and then put your phone away when you are done. Consider taking breaks from the news as needed, and we recommend avoiding 24-hour news channels as your primary source of news.
- Remind yourself every day what you’ve accomplished and what you love about yourself. This can help raise your sense of self-worth when facing setbacks. At the same time, allow yourself empathy for any goals you haven’t been able to meet yet.
- Take time to sit and reflect, take deep breaths, meditate, or pray. This can center you and slow anxious thinking. We recommend apps like for assistance on meditation.
- Allow yourself comfort in media you like, in moderation. Re-reading old books or re-watching favorite shows can be soothing.
- If you can, give to your community or donate to charity. The act of giving fosters connection and a sense of purpose, and is shown to have positive effects on mental health.
There are also resources available online for educational and community support. We encourage people to review COVID-19 virtual support offerings, seminars, and calendar. For those coping with grief and loss over this period, whatever the cause of the loss, many find connection in grief-based support groups, such as those offered virtually by .
We invite employees to review the , which has updated mental health links, phone numbers, community resources, and news articles from over the past year with tips, as well as our regularly updated .
We are all exhausted by the restrictions and limitations, but please continue to stay vigilant with masks, wash your hands regularly, and to stay safe with social distancing. Please feel free to reach out to us at the EAP at 617-635-2200 for support or more information, and have a save and healthy March.