Knowledge is power, but not all headlines are created equal. Use these tips to protect your mental health.
Last week, many people had never heard of COVID-19. Today, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus seems to command every news headline and social media post — but that doesn’t mean COVID-19 anxiety should command all your attention.
It’s easy to get swept up in the air of anxiety that comes with a flood of information, particularly as protective measures against the illness start to impact daily life. In the face of social isolation and job uncertainty, it’s important to protect your mental and emotional health, especially if you’re recovering from a substance use disorder (SUD).
As we wrote last week, mental health issues and addiction are intrinsically linked. Struggling with one increases the risk of suffering from the other. Fortunately, this also means the opposite is true: nurturing your mental health can help you avoid relapse during times of stress.
To help you navigate the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, and the sometimes disruptive decisions made to protect people from catching it, here are five ways to nurture mental health and protect your substance abuse recovery:
1. Limit your daily news consumption.
Avoid the temptation to hit “refresh” ad nauseam for updates and details. Staying informed is empowering, but falling into an information rabbit hole can cause undue stress. Instead, choose a few reputable sources (one local) to check once a day. Limit your time on social media and message boards, and take your direction from the World Health Organization and the CDC. Becoming intentional about how you consume news will help you to keep the impact of coronavirus in perspective.
2. Keep things in perspective.
COVID-19 has made some people very sick, but most (approximately 80%) fully recover without hospitalization. The measures that feel so disruptive — event cancellations, business closures and measures to prevent large crowds — are in place to protect the people most vulnerable to complications, such as the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. So while it can feel frustrating, perhaps even frightening, to stay home in isolation, take heart that your effort is slowing the spread of the illness so hospitals have capacity to treat people who need help.
3. Reach out to a mental health professional.
If you’re feeling anxious about catching the virus, protecting your livelihood, or simply surviving social isolation, reach out for professional help before your feelings escalate. A mental health professional can help you process your emotions and develop healthy coping mechanisms if you feel the urge to use drugs or alcohol. If you still struggle with substance abuse, consider starting an addiction treatment program. A treatment program will help you safely overcome physical dependence, while connecting you with resources for therapy or counseling.
4. Practice self care.
This means getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of water, and making sure you eat nourishing meals. It also means making time for activities you enjoy. As Dr. Andrew Mendonsa, a clinical psychologist at Sprout Health Group explained in a recent article about preventing negative thought patterns: “Serotonin is what the brain needs to cope, but the brain doesn’t necessarily care how this need is met.” Some people get their fix by working out. Others watch mindless TV or play video games. The key is to make these self-care activities as much a priority as other tasks on your to-do list. Give yourself permission to rejuvenate.
5. Stay connected to people who support your recovery.
Social distancing may prevent the spread of disease, but it can also take a toll on your mental health. If you’re recovering from substance abuse, solitude can bring the temptation to use. Although bunkering down with Netflix can feel therapeutic once in a while, humans need social interaction for our mental and physical health. (More on that in this great article by the New York Times.) Stay connected to supportive friends and family who help you feel accountable to your recovery. If you have the option, continue to attend local AA or NA meetings, following CDC guidelines for interacting with others. Or attend meetings online. Making a habit of reaching out will help you maintain your mental health before you start to feel the effect of isolation.
Although COVID-19 anxiety may continue to affect everyday life for weeks or months to come, the right mindset can help you stay calm and mentally healthy. If you need help starting your addiction recovery, call us now to speak with someone about getting the treatment you need. For more information on the coronavirus, see the trusted references below: