Self-Care in the Time of COVID: Your Mental Health

May 29, 2020

Few would argue that this new reality is a challenging one. The barrage of bad news, the social isolation, the mounting fear of what lies around the corner. Few of us are mentally and emotionally prepared to navigate the extreme uncertainty and upheaval this virus has brought. And if you’re one of the millions of people already managing depression or anxiety, then this is a serious double whammy.

Fortunately though, you are not alone. And there is help. In addition to all the online support groups and services, uplifting and inspiring blog posts and articles (for which I am most grateful!), you now have this obsessively researched, tried and tested list of anxiety quelling, mood boosting tools and resources. The even better news? Every one of these self-care strategies will help create a solid foundation for mental and emotional wellness long after this is over.

Below are some simple tools & techniques to help you harness the power of your mind in support of your mental well-being. And every one of these is equally beneficial for managing depression and anxiety–whatever the source.

Make This Madness Manageable

Trying to wrap our heads around the enormity of this situation and the suffering that comes with it is a formidable task. We don’t know what our circumstances will look like in a day, a week, even a month from now. Which is why the best thing we can do for our mental health, is limit the focus on our current reality to what feels manageable. That may mean reading no more than one COVID-related news story a day (even going a day or two without!), allowing yourself to think/worry/talk about what's going on for no more than 10 minutes a day.

Control the Narrative

The way we talk to ourselves about this whole ordeal has a major impact on how we experience it. Now it's wholly unrealistic to expect ourselves to have "I'm sooo grateful for all the time alone/with my family/to get back to the basics/practice being present...!" on an ongoing inner loop –I certainly don't. But it's definitely worth keeping our inner cynic under control.  For instance, hearing "This is a nightmare", "I can't take this anymore" just drags us down and compromises the inner resources we rely on to persevere. So nip those negative self-messages in the bud! And consider inserting an upgraded alternative in its place (ie. "I will power through this", "I'm doing my best and that is good enough" or whatever sounds believably optimistic).

I find it can help too, to remind myself that the situation as it is now, is temporary. Though we have no definitive timeline, we can confidently reassure ourselves that this will end, and we will return to our lives. And we will likely return a little wiser, more compassionate, more flexible...and certainly, more patient.

Give Yourself the Gift of Productivity (and distraction)!

Another way to assume some control over our situation (and create some healthy distraction!) is to give ourselves concrete tasks to accomplish each day–ideally things we'll feel good about having done. These can be household projects, personal or professional development courses, hobbies, sports, anything we can complete or become more skilled at. And nothing is too small! I have personally gotten a great deal of satisfaction out of organizing my office closet and clearing out my cluttered kitchen cabinets! Every proactive step we take to help ourselves or others–in any way– reminds us that we have some control, even if it's just how we use our time and energy.

Practice Being Present Tense

During times like these, everyone can benefit from a little mental breathing room. Whether you're a regular meditator or a never-meditator, there are tons of online resources to help you create that for yourself. I've personally fallen in love with the wellness app, Calm, as they have a very doable, down-to-earth approach to meditation, and have many different teachers as well as meditative music to help you sleep. They have both free and subscription options. Also worth checking out are Headspace and Simple Habit. It can be especially helpful to start your day off with a guided meditation or just a few minutes of quiet breathing practice.

Give yourself a break!

As a self-employed single parent of an uber high-intensity small human, I always have nagging sense that there is something more (many things really) that I should be doing. Even now. More work, more exercise, more to get more work, more time playing Legos (and basketball and soccer) with my son, more time cooking (though hour-wise this would already qualify as a part time job!), more time meditating, more cleaning (yes I have spent the past week ignoring the mounting dust piles in various corners of my house), and just generally, more earning of my place on the planet. If ever there were ever a time to give ourselves a break its now. Seriously. Stop what you’re doing, take a long, luxurious inhale and tell yourself “I am doing enough.”

Get Ready for a Real Day

There is something about getting showered and dressed that just makes the day feel like it matters. And we need to remind ourselves that it does! Now of course comfortable clothes are a must, and primping is optional (I've certainly spent my share of days not fit for human viewing), but I find that even just doing the bare minimum can be enough to give ourselves a little boost.

And of course there are many ways to get "real-day ready". Lately I've been starting my days with some gently energizing yoga (3 rounds of sun salutations specifically), followed by a five minute meditation. And when I'm able to get my son to join me, it really gets us in-sync for the day.

Notice (and revel in) what you miss

It can be so affirming to think about what we reminds us of the good in our lives, gets us focused on the positive, and gives us something to look forward to.
See how it feels to answer these questions. When this quarantine is over:

The first place I want to go is_______________
The first person I want to see is_____________
The first person I want to hug is_____________
The first thing I want to do_________________
The thing I will never again take for granted is__
Think about how grateful you will feel for each of these things when you have access to them again. Think about how good it will feel to taste/touch/see/do whatever it is, and how awesome is it to have so many things we miss!

Find the Funny

ff ever we needed a good laugh (or 50!), it's now. Adding some levity to our days can help balance out all the negativity coming in, and there's plenty of science to support humor as a stress reducer and immune booster. Humor can be found in any number of places: silly tictoc videos, funny animal videos on YouTube, comedies on demand, Netflix, or Hulu, stand-up comedy (nothing gets me LOLing like old Eddie Murphy routines). And of course, good old fashioned joke books work too! And if you have people in your life who can get a laugh out of you, be sure to add them to your quarantine call-list.

Choose How Your Talk About This Situation

Everything we say–either aloud or to ourselves–has an impact, and the more we use our words to assure and comfort, the stronger and more hopeful we'll feel. While of course we can't avoid thinking and talking about the hard stuff we're facing, we don't want to make it our primary topic of thought and conversation.

Try to notice how you're describing your experience: do you regularly hear yourself saying things like "this is a nightmare", "I can't take this anymore"? If so, see if you can cut those messages down and replace them with something more empowering like "this is so hard but I'm lucky to have_________(whatever or whoever is helping you through this time)" For instance, I keep thinking about how glad I am that this didn't happen in the days before electronics–imagine going through this without access to computers and cell phones?? I also remind myself (and my son) that this is a few months (hopefully) out of a possible1200 in our lives. Giving the situation perspective really helps to make it feel more manageable.

Give Yourself Good Dreams

Getting a good night's sleep is critical for our mental and physical health–never more so than now. This powerful practice can combat nightmares and help us get some peaceful zzz's, and it's incredibly simple. I recommend doing this every night before sleep but if you forget, it can also be done if you wake from a nightmare. This is also a great breathing technique for whenever you’re experiencing symptoms of stress or dysregulation.

  • Breathe slowly into your diaphragm on the count of four (through your nose if possible)
  • Hold for a count of seven, being sure to keep your body relaxed as you do
  • Exhale for a count of eight
  • Repeat a minimum of 10 times, fewer repetitions are significantly less impactful

If you feel your jaw getting tight as you do this, you can soften it by stretching out your tongue as far as it can go, then keep your teeth separated when you close your mouth.

NOTE: There are a few things that do compromise the effect of this technique including short-changing any of the steps or having too much caffeine and/or sugar during the day–especially if it’s late in the day (I know because I am guilty of all of these!)

Be sure to check out my next post Self-Care in the Time of COVID: Your Emotional Health, which will give you lots of tips for bolstering your emotional wellness during COVID times.


  1. Love the tips.
    For sleeping, here's another one: nose breathing. Our noses get the most of out oxygen, and it stabilizes our systems and decreases stress. Mouth breathing is baaaaad for you, esp when sleeping. Check it out, it's true.

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