It has been awfully quiet here in my blog lately. In the first few months of our new time reckoning, after Corona, I was full of energy and enthusiasm: There is a crisis, and we need to battle this. We need to make sure everyone is okay and soon this is all gonna be over. As a passionate problem solver, I investigated ways to contribute to the solution.
Now, after more than half a year of lockdowns, restrictions and sacrifice, there still is no end in sight and the constant bad news is taking its toll – on me just as well as anyone else. I have struggled with the situation and a minor depression phase for a few months now, which is why I did not feel up to posting new things. Recently, I’ve looked into the science behind this, as it seems to me like I am not the only one struggling:
Why is the Corona crisis affecting mental health?
Even for those who did not contract the virus, the situation itself brings many challenges: It is completely new to most and brings along uncertainty. The risk of infection, long term medical consequences and also economic challenges cause worry, anxiety or fear. 53 % of Americans reported to be affected in their mental health in July 2020 . This can lead to stress, trouble sleeping and eating as well as enhanced drug use.
The infection risk for oneself or one’s loved ones is the major worry for many. Especially those from risk groups like the elders need protection right now. But economic factors such as job loss or income insecurity affect a huge amount of people, too. In addition, work gets harder for many such as those working in public health due to the high workload caused by waves of sick patients and efforts to lower infection risks. Without knowing when this all is going to end, it makes the situation especially difficult to bear.
Furthermore, everyone is asked to change their normal way of living, because Social Distancing is the best tool we have to limit the spread of the virus . Restricting contacts may sound easy, but humans are social animals. For those, studies show that a reduction in sociality brings along costs such as a drain of energy or increased predation risk . Social isolation affects humans just as well.
Humans have xenophobic tendencies when threatened by a pathogen like the Corona virus : Studies show that in such situations, humans differentiate increasingly between in-group and out-group. While we care for our in-group like our family and friends, we try to isolate from others. This leads to tensions which can unload like we have seen in many countries like the US in the last few months.
But also inside the own household, the situation causes stress on a new level: With lockdowns in place, people stick around each other all the time. Working from home might be convenient, but takes away real interactions with other people. It gets increasingly difficult to differentiate work and private life. And stress from a busy work day can’t be left on the street, but penetrates our homes. Combined with childcare that affects work productivity, this is a dangerous mix. The result is a surge in domestic violence: 1 in 4 women as well as 1 in 10 men experience intimate partner violence in the US .
For those living alone the situation is not easier: They are more isolated than ever. Especially those from risk group like elders are in a tricky situation where their loved ones have to decide whether to visit them and risk their infection – or not visiting them and leaving them in their loneliness. It seems like there is no right choice here.
Substance abuse is one way how people try to deal with the stress: 13% report on having started or increased substance abuse due to COVID-19 in the US . But this only worsens the overall situation as its positive short-lived effects don’t outweigh the negative long term ones. So the real question is:
What can we do to minimize stress from COVID19?
The most important thing to realize right now is that whatever you might feel like in this situation, your feelings are valid. It is okay to be stressed by this! It also took me a while to realize that I can’t expect to not be affected by this, even though me, my family and friends have been safe from the virus – for now. It is okay to feel insecure and threatened. And it is okay to be pissed off sometimes, too!
There are a few things you can do that might help. One of the most important tools that you can use is talking to others – and that might also involve those not from your household. Technology has given us the tools to communicate with friends far away and even see them live. Talk to others and discuss your feelings and worries, your frustration and disappointment. Friends won’t care, they might even be able to help!
Especially synchronous communication such as via Zoom or Skype has shown in studies to outperform messages and phone calls in terms of the quality of interaction. It seems to be the closest we might get to in-person interactions . So these tools are mighty to help you when struggling with social distancing!
Social media might be portrayed as a social tool to connect to others, but in fact studies show that its use leads to an increased perceived social isolation . So if you feel down, it might be a good time to take a break from social media, too. This is what I also have been doing lately.
Physical exercise has enormous positive effect on mood and can be a good option, too. Even if gyms are closed or feel uncomfortable, there are thousands of free indoor gym or yoga classes on youtube that you can try. Yoga is supposed to be especially good to release stress. A good, exhausting run outside always works for me to clear my mind.
Good food and a nice treat every once in a while can also help. My baking skill has gone through the roof since the start of the pandemic and eating a slice will always make me feel warm and fuzzy for a while. Other mood boosters can be found here as well.
I still don’t have a complete recipe for success in coping with all of this. But I don’t expect that from myself, too: We are all new to this, and we have to figure this out along the way. But it is every little step that counts, every day that we made it through well. If you are struggling, please reach out to someone – open up about it and get help! It is okay to ask for help, as this is so difficult to do alone. And please know, your feelings are valid!
What are your coping strategies? Let’s share and help each and another: The most important thing right now is to be kind to each other, as we still are #inthistogether.