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Managing Mental Well-being During Reduced In-person Contact

Managing mental wellbeing is critical in times of uncertainty and unpredictability. One common coping mechanism is to connect in-person with friends or family because isolation can negatively impact those experiencing depression and anxiety.

Amid concerns over COVID-19, however, that recommendation conflicts with health and safety instructions on social distancing. Licenced clinicians and researchers at the Tulane University School of Work have the following suggestions on how to prevent transitioning to increased at-home time from negatively affecting a person’s mental health.

Transitioning to Working or Learning From Home

Working or learning remotely requires balance. Some individuals may feel productive and pleased by being in their comfortable homes, and others may feel drained or unable to maintain focus. 

To help your mind prepare for online work or learning, set up a routine and create a workspace dedicated to work. “You may want to shower, brush your teeth, get out of your pajamas, and go to a specific space you’ve designated as the place for focussing and being productive,” says Tulane School of Social Work DSW Program Director Dr. Tonya Hansel. She adds that having sticky notes, calendars, journals, or other office supplies can also organize your tasks and thoughts to help you remember what you need to accomplish.

Email, message, or call your colleagues and fellow students. This will not only allow you to connect for mental well-being but also allow you to gain and support clarity and understanding. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions or indicate you need more details on an assignment. Dealing with change and uncertainty could affect the way you comprehend instruction and information,” says Dr. Hansel.

Dr. Hansel recently provided expertise in an article about workplace loneliness that may also be helpful to those transitioning to working or learning remotely.

Recharging with Fresh Air, Exercise, and Entertainment

Some individuals who work or learn at home feel they need to constantly be in that mode. Others need simple ways to stave off the negative feelings of isolation. Fresh air, exercise, and entertainment are wonderful ways to look after your mental well-being.

When spending more time inside, connecting with the outdoors can help your mood. Recharge your body and mind by taking a midday walk around your neighborhood or enjoy a snack on your porch. Allow more sunlight into your space and open windows. To take this a step further, go for a hike on a nature trail or family bike ride on the shore or lakefront.

Runners, walkers, and cyclists can keep up their routines though you will want to bring your own water, avoid drinking out of public fountains, and keep approximately 6 feet from others as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends. Plenty of free online resources can also help you get moving. YouTube has a wealth of free yoga, fitness, and other exercise videos in which you and your housemates or family can engage. You can also find dance lessons with which you can follow along.

Having unexpected time at home reduces commute time and hours in traffic. This means you have extra time! Use it for productivity, creativity, pleasure, and entertainment. Professor of Practice and licensed clinical social worker Dr. Maurya Glaude suggests the following:

  • Do some needed spring cleaning or lawn care, which improves the functioning of your space and makes it more pleasant and enjoyable while providing a sense of accomplishment
  • Create a new piece of art or do a craft with your children. 
  • Arrange some “rainy day” activities for the family. 
  • Order your groceries online and cook a meal from scratch. 
  • Catch up on Netflix or shows in your DVR queue. 
  • Plan next year’s Family Reunion. 
  • Read that extra chapter.
  • Discover a new blog on your hobby. 

Feel free to allow small indulgences. Giving yourself or your children a little extra screen time is a way of practicing self-care. Whatever you do, do something you enjoy. 

Using Technology to Connect

Continuing to connect with various social groups is important, and fortunately we have a wealth of technology to support that. Whether you have a chat with a friend or group over Facetime, Google Hangouts, Zoom, or the phone, you can catch up, share stories, and support each other. “As they are in a particularly vulnerable population, surprise a grandparent or other elderly person with a long uninterrupted conversation. This can bring joy and kinship to them and you,” says Dr. Glaude.

Technology can also support community connectedness. Use Google Hangouts, Zoom, Facebook Live, Slack, or other platforms to start a remote book club, prayer circle, or writing or study group as Dr. Glaude suggests.

No matter how you find to connect, demonstrate concern for others and normalize feelings for each other. “Being disappointed or sad that something you were looking forward to has been cancelled is normal. Anxiety and fear are common reactions to disrupted routines,” says Dr. Hansel. Remember to be as compassionate to yourself as you are to everyone else.

Accessing Mental Health Resources

Mental health resources are available. If you have a preexisting mental health condition,  continue with your treatment plan and monitor for any new symptoms. Additionally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published a thorough guide to coping during the COVID-19 occurrence. 

Additional information and resources on mental health care can be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website. Also, SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Hotline is available by calling 1-800-985-5990 or texting TalkWithUs to 66746.

“Be intentional about prioritizing and maintaining work-life or school-life balance during this time. Remote work offers opportunities for each of us to recharge, stay connected, and entertain, even virtually with others in creative ways,” says Dr. Glaude.