With no end date in sight for the coronavirus pandemic, the whole world seems to be in flux. Plans have been cancelled, entire industries are on hold, and the development of a vaccine is still uncertain.
All this disruption has “pierced our illusion of certainty and control,” warned US Supreme Court Justice John Roberts on Saturday, echoing doctors who have said that many people are likely to feel a loss of control over their lives since the COVID-19 outbreak started.
But uncertainty doesn’t have to lead to feelings of helplessness and depression, according to mental health experts, who recommended four strategies to ensure mental stability during the current crisis:
It’s important to maintain daily routines as much as possible, according to Yale University psychologist Dr. Eli Lebowitz, who said a healthy routine includes physical activity, adequate sleep, nutritional eating, avoiding the overconsumption of social media, and connecting with friends and family.
Creating or maintaining a daily routine creates predictability, which also helps us feel in control, according to Sharon Martin, a psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience.
“You don’t have to be overly rigid about your routine, but create a few cornerstone habits such as a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, regular meal times, and time for exercise and other healthy habits,” said Martin, a licensed clinical social worker in California, in an interview with Al Arabiya English.
Not only will maintaining routine help during the coronavirus pandemic, but it will “make it easier to return to ‘normal life’ once the crisis is passed,” according to Lebowitz.
Focus on what you can control
The feeling of powerlessness over life events can be counteracted by the fact that you can always control something in your life, according to psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker Amy Morin.
“Focus on things you can control, such as your effort, your attitude, your breathing. You can control things that really matter - like the way you think, feel, and behave,” said Morin, author of the bestselling book “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.”
One thing everyone has a degree of control over during the pandemic is taking personal preventative measures against the spread of the coronavirus, according to physician Dr. Nina Radcliff, who works with COVID-19 patients in New Jersey.
If you are taking preventative measures - washing hands often and thoroughly, wearing a protective face mask, maintaining social distancing - fears related to COVID-19 do not have to overwhelm your life.
“As we all take measures to protect our physical health, we also need to protect our emotional health. While a virus can invade our bodies, we get to decide whether we let it invade our minds,” said Dr. Radcliff.
If you find yourself being consumed with thoughts about things outside your control, “purposely refocus on things you have control over,” said Morin.
Adjust expectations and priorities
The top New Year’s 2020 resolution in the US is to exercise more. Yet many gyms closed just three months into the year as a preventative measure against the rapidly spreading virus. As a result, many people found their usual exercise routines interrupted.
Goals made before the pandemic should be adjusted to allow for the unexpected events of COVID-19, according to Morin.
“It’s OK to tell yourself that the rules are a little different during a crisis situation,” said Morin, whose popular TedTalk “The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong” has been watched by over 12 million people.
“The things that seemed to matter to you six months ago, might have moved down on the priority list. Give yourself permission to adjust your priorities as needed,” she said.
Set aside worry time
Scheduling worry time is a tried and true practice used by Morin with her patients. Incorporating worry time into your day can ultimately reduce overall anxiety, a 2013 University of Illinois-Chicago study found.
“Set aside 15 minutes each day to worry. Put it in your schedule. Whenever you worry outside of that time, remind yourself you can worry later,” said Morin.
“When your worrying time rolls around, sit down and worry for 15 minutes. When your time is up, move on to something else,” she added.
Applying these four strategies can help people deal with the feeling they have lost control of their life and maintain psychological wellbeing in the uncertain post-coronavirus world.