By Biren Prakash Patel, M.D., Behavioral Medicine, Kelsey-Seybold Clinic
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed stress and pressure on all of us over the last few months. As we close in on the six-month milestone, it may be difficult to stay positive and hopeful despite the progress that’s been made in understanding this virus. If this pandemic has got you down, you are not alone.
It isn’t just adults whose mental health may be challenged. Children and adolescents are also impacted by the changes and uncertainties in their daily routines, including the new school year and changes to social activities, sports, and other programs.
However, there are a few minor adjustments that can be made to help ease some of the sadness and anxiety we are feeling in our daily lives.
- Keep a Routine – This helps adults and school-aged children normalize day-to-day activities. It is suggested that school-aged children try to maintain a daily routine similar to when school is in session, including a balanced breakfast and lunch at similar times every day. It is also encouraged to celebrate birthdays, graduations, holidays, and other milestones in a socially distanced manner.
- Limit News/Social Media Exposure – Prolonged use and viewing of traumatic events has been shown by studies to worsen anxiety and depression symptoms. Prolonged social media use has been associated with increased depression and anxiety risk threefold.
- Exercise/Yoga/Meditation – These practices may help with depressive and anxious thoughts. There are smartphone apps that provide guided meditations, including Apple podcasts, Spotify, Calm, and many others found in the app store. Preliminary studies have revealed some benefits for mild depressive symptoms.
- Limit Nicotine/Alcohol Use – Both have been shown to exacerbate depression and anxiety. Adolescents are using nicotine products in growing numbers because of the accessibility of vaping products. Speak candidly with your teenager about how nicotine may adversely impact his or her mental health.
- Embrace Digital Socialization – Make it a point to meet regularly with family and friends via video interactions to help socialize and stay connected. Social support systems are important for adults and children alike.
- Improve Sleep Hygiene – Poor sleep hygiene has been linked to increased stress and anxiety. Good sleep hygiene means avoiding television and cell phones in bed, using the bed for sleep only, and avoiding daytime use.
- Experience Nature – Interacting with nature can be as simple as spending time in the backyard, in the garden, or on an explorative walk through a park or along the shores of a lake. Nature-based themes have been shown to help reduce severity of symptoms in inpatient psychiatric units.
It’s important to take time each morning before you start your day, and at night before you go to sleep, to check in on your mental health and make adjustments to help maintain or improve your mood and outlook.