From social distancing and being confined at home to other restrictions, the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has presented numerous challenges that affects the mental and psychological health of people around the world.
As a result, more individuals are experiencing increased stress, fear, anxiety and loneliness—which have made it harder to cope and maintain a sense of well-being.
“Our perspective on time is thrown off balance during a time like this,” said Dr. Chandler Chang, a licensed psychologist and founder of DTLA-based Therapy Lab.
“Focus on each day at a time and create plans that you look forward to on the weekends, even while staying at home.”
Engaging in activities like work projects or quarantine hobbies, such as baking and jigsaw puzzles, can help refocus attention and offer a sense of accomplishment.
“The pandemic feels enduring and uncertain with no end in sight, so when you refocus your energy on something that can be finished and checked off a list, it gives you a greater sense of control,” said Jennie Steinberg, a therapist who owns Through the Woods Therapy Center in Los Angeles.
“It also reminds you that something can be finite and not stretch on forever, and it allows you to feel a sense of completion.”
Starting a daily practice of gratitude can help shift mindsets and increase a positive outlook. Chang and Steinberg recommend identifying things you are grateful for and writing them down or sharing them out loud.
“People are wired to focus on the negative, and this is evolutionarily advantageous,” Steinberg said.
“Things that are bad demand attention because they indicate a need for change. Things that are good can be ignored and nothing will go wrong. Practicing gratitude forces you to combat this negativity bias and focus on the things in your life that are going well.”
Constantly monitoring the news and social media can also heighten anxiety and stress levels. Activities like yoga and meditation can enhance our overall experience of embodiment, where we become more aware of our surroundings and the sensations within our bodies. This also has a profound effect on the body’s vagus nerve—the longest and most complex of the cranial nerves—which regulates various bodily systems, including digestion, blood pressure and heart rate, calmness and relaxation.
“Anytime you feel anxious, aggravated or depressed and want to feel more embodied, go stand in your backyard, on your balcony, by your window or you can also do this while sitting down or in the car,” said Sergio Ocampo, a psychotherapist who treats patients at Downtown Los Angeles EMDR/Somatic Anxiety and Depression Therapy.
“Take a deep breath, move your neck around in different directions and look all around you, observing the various textures, colors and shapes you see. Name five sounds you hear and five sensations you feel. Practicing this daily will help you calm down and feel more well-regulated.”
Another way to reduce anxiety is to focus on the present and avoid worrying about any events or issues that are more than two hours in the future. This will keep you from spiraling into scenarios of things that could go wrong.
“If you think back to the hardest thing you’ve ever been through, you may remember it as being extremely difficult—but you survived,” Steinberg said.
“You took it moment by moment and did what you needed to do. When you imagine the worst-case scenario in the future, you can’t bring those resources with you into that scenario, so all you’re left envisioning is the world crumbling around you. When that happens, tell yourself, ‘I’m not allowed to worry about anything more than two hours from now.’ Then you can re-center yourself and just focus on the present.”
Allowing yourself to be open to your emotions and processing them as they arise can help prevent you from getting stuck in cycles of depression or unrelenting anxiety. Chang recommends journaling, talking honestly with others and practicing self-care.
“With our lives so disrupted, the silver linings are clearer than ever, even as we feel the unique stress,” she said. “Know that these emotions are intended by nature to guide us and help move us where we need to be.
“As I’ve been quite busy since the very beginning of this crisis, I sometimes sacrifice my relaxation or personal time. When I reclaim that time for myself, my personal commitment is equally restorative as the physical poses. Commit to yourself and you elevate your mind and spirit.”