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Best Practices for Good Mental Health During COVID-19 Isolation
Anxiety is part of the human condition, but the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has significantly raised the emotional stakes. More than one-third of Americans surveyed recently said the pandemic is seriously impacting their mental health.1
Managing anxiety can be challenging on a routine basis, particularly for the more than 40 million people who have an anxiety disorder, the most common mental health concern in the U.S.2 And, during this time of heightened worry and uncertainty, when people are house-bound and feeling isolated, the task becomes more challenging still.
Licensed clinical mental health counselors and other mental health professionals say tuning in to those anxious feelings is a first step toward alleviating them. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) suggests taking small steps. “Even simple actions can make a difference,” NAMI writes in its COVID-19 Resource and Information Guide.3
“Focus on what is in your control,” says Dr. Shelli Friess, a counselor and faculty member in Walden University’s MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling online degree program. “These could even be small things like what you decide to wear or eat for the day, keeping a routine, or setting small goals. Many of those I have worked with have reported feeling better when they can feel a sense of agency by focusing on what they do have control over.”
Experts also recommend continuing or seeking counseling to help cope with feelings of isolation, fear, and uncertainty. Medicare and many health insurance companies have expanded benefits to cover telemental health, so you can talk with a licensed clinical mental health counselor without leaving home.
Here are some other tips that may help you manage anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Unplug: Schedule short blocks of time for checking news, e-mail, and social media. “My patients who are the most anxious about the coronavirus are those who are consuming the most news from social media, online, and traditional outlets,” says Ken Goodman, a Los Angeles-based licensed clinical social worker. “The more anxious you feel, the more you should distance from the media.”4 Mental health professionals also recommend consulting credible, science- and research-based sources for COVID-19 news and information, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
- Connect: In a global survey, 70% of cell phone users polled in March said they were using the devices more frequently during the coronavirus disease pandemic.5 Licensed clinical mental health counselors and other mental health professionals say connecting with family and friends via phone, e-mail, social media, and video calls can lessen your anxiety—and theirs. If you’re not feeling talkative, NAMI suggests doing virtual activities “together,” like working on craft projects. Or how about reviving letter writing? An Illinois woman is tucking handwritten notes to friends into greeting cards she bought long ago—when they cost 60 cents—but never had time to send. Be creative and connect in a way that’s meaningful for you.
- Volunteer: Volunteering boosts dopamine, one of the brain’s “feel good” neurotransmitters.6 And luckily, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are scores of ways to give back without leaving home. HandsOn Broward is collecting short videos of thanks and encouragement to share with first responders, medical personnel, and people working essential jobs. (This is a quick, easy project to share with the kids.) Offer your tutoring skills online. Help preserve history by transcribing documents and letters from History Colorado’s women’s suffrage collection. Find lots of ideas at All for Good.
- Move: You may not be up for a CrossFit-style workout, but how about a walk around the block? Research shows that walking for 10 minutes can be as effective in alleviating anxiety as a 45-minute workout.7 Movement can be an important tool in lessening everyday anxiety, especially during the coronavirus outbreak. Dance to a different song each day, hop on your bike (with mask and helmet, of course), do yoga, participate in an exercise class online, or head outside for gardening. Just keep moving.
- Laugh: Comedians, actors, and other entertainers are sharing their talent across digital platforms to help keep spirits up. Leslie Jordan, last seen in a recurring role on Will & Grace, has gained millions of followers —“fellow hunker-downers”—by telling funny, folksy, family-infused stories in short Instagram videos. When you find something that tickles your funny bone, you get a triple infusion of anxiety-reducing, feel-good transmitters: dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins.8
- Be Mindful: Sit comfortably, in a quiet spot, and close your eyes. Feel the sensation of your breath—in, out. Focus your attention there, in the present moment. And when your mind drifts, just return to the breath. Start small—try two minutes—and over time, work your way up. Mindfulness meditation, when practiced regularly, can help reduce anxiety.9 Staying focused on what’s happening now keeps your mind from straying into future uncertainties. There are lots of resources to help you cultivate mindfulness. Headspace and Ten Percent Happier are two popular, beginner-friendly options.
Sometimes, though, when anxiety is severe, even the gentlest of tasks can feel insurmountable. If you or someone you know is in crisis, trained counselors are available by phone and online 24/7, at no cost. Here are suggested resources from mental health professionals for you to keep and share:
- If it is an emergency situation, call 911.
- If you or someone you know is experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You may also use the website’s chat feature found on the upper right of the home page.
- Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a counselor at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- Call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. You may also access online chat or send a text to 838255.
- The International Association for Suicide Prevention maintains a global catalog of crisis centers.
Help Others With a Degree in Counseling
If you seek the challenges and rewards of a career in counseling, now might be a good time earn a degree online from an accredited clinical mental health counseling program. Walden University’s online MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree program can prepare you for licensure, and for a career working to help men, women, and children build resilience.
Walden’s clinical mental health counseling online program offers a general program plus five optional specializations: Forensic Counseling; Addiction Counseling; Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling; Military Families and Culture; and Trauma and Crisis Counseling.
With features like rolling start dates and a flexible online learning platform, Walden opens the world of education to adult learners ready to advance their careers. At a time when there are increased mental health concerns, it’s time for compassionate professionals to find their calling as licensed clinical mental health counselors.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering a general MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree program, and five optional specializations, online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.
Walden University’s MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), a specialized accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). CACREP accreditation is a requirement for licensure in many states.
Note on licensure: The MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program is designed to prepare graduates to qualify to sit for licensing exams and to meet the academic licensure requirements of many state counseling boards. Because no graduate program can guarantee licensure upon graduation, we encourage students to consult the appropriate agency to determine specific requirements. For more information about licensure, students should visit the National Board for Certified Counselors at www.nbcc.org/search/stateboarddirectory and/or the American Association of State Counseling Boards at www.aascb.org, and contact the appropriate licensing body. Learn more about professional licensure.
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