Feeling Stressed? Here Are Some Ways To Care For Your Mental Health During Coronavirus

Apr 8, 2020

Psychologist Jade Wu shares advice for maintaining mental health during the coronavirus pandemic.
Credit Laura Pellicer / WUNC

The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically transformed home and work life in North Carolina. For many, it has blurred the line between the once separate realms of home, office and school. And with that comes new sources of stress and anxiety. 

Many licensed clinical therapists and psychologists have pivoted to offering telehealth services during the crisis. The American Psychological Association, launched a 50-state telehealth advocacy campaign to help facilitate the move and to cut through administrative roadblocks between insurers, regulators and government. 

Licensed clinical psychologist Jade Wu specializes in sleep research and hosts the “Savvy Psychologist” podcast. She’s been tracking the mental health challenges the pandemic has ushered in and she shares her tips for managing stress, sleep and more during these uncertain times.
 

How is the pandemic impacting mental health in general?
I've heard from some of my colleagues that they are seeing a spike in cases of panic attacks. And that totally makes sense. Because not only are we experiencing the anxiety of the moment with uncertainty, with perhaps loved ones getting sick, seeing our friends getting sick, being afraid for our own health, the economy falling apart. All of these are really good reasons to be experiencing anxiety. 

How can you tell physically that you are experiencing stress or anxiety?
The great thing about the human body is that it lets you know. So stress, you'll feel tension in your shoulders, you'll get headaches, you'll feel maybe a little bit short of breath. With anxiety, you might have raised heartbeat, you might get sweaty palms, you might just feel really tense and uncomfortable, you might get hot. All of these signs are really, really clear because your body really wants you to respond to it.

Try to really make the difference between day and night really clear for your body.

OK, you’re definitely stressed. Now what?
If you find yourself kind of going down a rabbit hole with worry and starting to slide into unhelpful ways of thinking and stressing out about things you can't control, then just quickly, notice that you're doing that and then quickly do something with your body. Go take a shower. Go outside for a walk or run, do a few jumping jacks, put your face in the sun, get a little bit of exposure to sunlight. And that's a good way to sort of reset the system. 

How can you get along with your family while at home 24/7?
So if you are living in the same household with other people, make sure that you all have some 'me' time and your own separate space. And be really disciplined about, you know, if you're working from home, these are work hours with these breaks, or this is after work, this is when we hang out. Instead of sort of trying to impinge on each other's space all the time. And at the same time, we do want to very actively reach out to friends, to FaceTime, to schedule video conferencing with coworkers, email, text, stay connected with people, even introverts need that. 

How to manage information overload?
I would really advise limiting to one or maybe two really reliable sources of information that you can trust. For example, going to the Centers for Disease Control or the World Health Organization for official information about coronavirus. Instead of watching the news, watching that scroll of the death toll of the number of cases climbing. Because those numbers don't offer any practical solutions for us individuals on a day to day basis, so maybe once or twice a day you set your alarm for 10 a.m., I'm going to check the news on coronavirus. And then the rest of the day stay away from it.

Advice for getting a solid night of sleep?

Don't just roll around and go straight back to sleep because then you'll roll back into that nightmare, or roll into a new nightmare.

All the factors are working against us. We're kind of shut-in, our schedules are all wacky. And sleep can be really challenging at this time. Basically try to really make the difference between day and night really clear for your body. So get dressed in the morning, get out into the sun during the day, have your blinds open during the day. And at night, turn off the electronics, turn down the lights low, and, you know, relax. So if you get a couple bad nights in a row, don't sweat it. Your body is really resilient. Your sleep is really resilient. It will reset if you just follow that consistent schedule.

Advice for those experiencing weird, tiring dreams?
Don't just roll around and go straight back to sleep because then you'll roll back into that nightmare, or roll into a new nightmare. Get yourself all the way awake, go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, give yourself a shoulder rub, become fully awake and then go back to bed and sleep again. And if you're having repeated nightmares throughout the night, just give up on sleep for a few hours. Go and do something else pleasant. Relax, it's okay to miss a couple hours of sleep.