mental health

Keep calm and cope: How to stay mentally healthy during coronavirus crisis

Steph Arnaldo

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Keep calm and cope: How to stay mentally healthy during coronavirus crisis
Feeling a bit anxious lately? Don't worry, that's normal – here are simple but helpful tips on how to stay sane amid these trying times

MANILA, Philippines – Been feeling extra anxious and worried lately? It’s okay, we’re feeling it too – and it’s understandable. The global coronavirus outbreak is daunting, both to our physical health and our mental health, and frankly, most of us aren’t sure what to do.

In times of uncertainty, panic, and fear, it’s normal to be scared. Bad news, end-of-the-world Viber groups, and constant “what if’s” can be mentally and emotionally taxing on our psychological well-being – which makes it all the more important to protect. Taking care of your mental health isn’t just for your benefit, but for the people around you – and staying mentally healthy also plays a big part in keeping yourself physically strong.

Thankfully, medical centers are also equipped with concrete advice on how to keep calm, cope, and carry on amid these trying times. There’s no need to panic – here are are 4 simple but impactful tips on how to keep your mindset in tip-top shape, with help from the Ateneo Bulatao Center for Psychological Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Remember to breathe.

When one negative thought leads to another, and another, and 5 more… that might be a downhill spiral, or for some, a panic attack waiting to happen – and panic attacks are no fun at all.

Once you catch yourself in a state of alarm or absorbed in one of your doomsday thinking processes, stop. Take a moment to pause, and then breathe.

Many swear by the practice of deep breathing – a simple but reliable way of grounding yourself to the present moment, distancing yourself from negative thoughts, slowing down rapid breathing, and soothing episodes of panic.

Sit up straight, or lay down, close your eyes, and then breathe in deeply through your nose for 4 seconds, feeling your belly expand. Hold it in for 4 seconds, and then slowly exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds, feeling your belly constrict as it empties out all air from within. Be mindful of your shoulders, too – make sure it sinks down lower as you breathe out, releasing any tension. Do this a couple of times until your heart rate normalizes, and a sense of calm arrives. 

Another tip? Try out meditation. Five to ten minutes a day of silence, deep breathing, and mind-body awareness can do wonders in lowering your stress levels, whether you meditate daily or at the onset of a panic attack. There are useful, beginner-friendly apps you can download, like Calm or Headspace.

Focus on what you can do, and not on what you can’t control.

For the sake of your sanity, determine right away the tangible actions you can do in times of a crisis, and forget about the rest. What can’t you control? Saving the world. What can you control? Your personal hygiene. 

Know the accredited safety measures and protocols to take in preventing the virus – wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, constantly sanitize yourself, your items, and your surroundings with at least 70% alcohol, wear a mask if you’re sick and have to go out in public, avoid crowded spaces… you know the drill. If you still don’t, you should. 

It also helps to keep yourself busy and productive. Catch up on school work, get some reading done, exercise at home, and don’t let laziness get in the way of your new work-from-home system – as they say, an idle mind can be lethal! 

Stick with the facts, not fear.

In times of a crisis, TMI is very real – and very unsafe. Absorbing too much information can be dangerous, especially if these “facts” aren’t even verified, or aren’t remotely conducive. You know what we’re talking about – fearmongering relatives who elicit unnecessary panic in every Viber chain message they send, or friends who insist that “garlic is the miracle cure” of the virus, because “this link” said so.

Fact-checking has never been more important! Learn how to verify sources, and avoid falling for “sensational” content that scares rather than reassures. Respectfully correct relatives and friends who share unverified posts.

To avoid being overwhelmed by information, only seek the facts from credible news sources at certain times of the day, maybe only twice or thrice.

Detach yourself from your phone, and try muting your notifications for a while. 

Solidify your support system.

We get by with a little help from our friends, a famous rock band once said – and we totally agree. Having a trusted support system of friends and family members you can rely on and open up to is key in fostering connection – a social need even more important during these times.

Constantly check in with each other. Communicate. Share a laugh. Drop a meme. Try to keep your chins up! Having people you can openly share to lets us know that we are not alone, and that we are still part of a community – a powerful reminder that can help us get through the toughest of times. –

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Steph Arnaldo

If she’s not writing about food, she’s probably thinking about it. From advertising copywriter to freelance feature writer, Steph Arnaldo finally turned her part-time passion into a full-time career. She’s written about food, lifestyle, and wellness for Rappler since 2018.