How to manage mental health issues if you’re self-isolating

March 31, 2020 in Disease Management  •  By Miles Varn, MD
mental health

All around the world, people are living with the ongoing anxiety and stress that are resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to fears about getting seriously ill or family members contracting the virus, people are faced with financial stresses from job losses and furloughs and a falling stock market.

Another factor that’s affecting many people’s mental health is that governments and health officials are advising people to practice social distancing or isolate themselves from others except when they need food, medicine, or medical treatment. This isolation can have a significant impact on mental health and can be especially difficult for people who were living with a mental health issue like depression, anxiety, substance misuse, or OCD before the start of the pandemic.

There are a number of strategies that may help if you’re in this situation:

  • Find ways to continue your treatment: If you were already seeing a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health care provider, contact your provider and ask if he or she can provide treatment via videocall or phone. If you take medication, ask if your provider can write a prescription for a 90-day supply and have a local pharmacy deliver your medication. If you can’t get more than a month’s supply, check with your insurance about mail order pharmacy delivery to help ensure you continue to have access to your medication. If you were attending AA or NA meetings, check with your sponsor or online to see if there are virtual meeting options.
  • Manage your news and social media exposure: Both the news media and social media are understandably hyper-focused on the COVID-19 outbreak. But constant exposure to this information (and in some cases misinformation) can cause you to experience more severe symptoms of your condition or can trigger conditions such as PTSD or substance misuse. To mitigate this, manage your consumption of media, choosing reliable sources that provide fact-based information and limiting how often you read or listen to news and social media. Some mental health professionals suggest checking the news twice a day to stay current with information you need to know without the stress overload that may be caused by constant exposure. If you use news and social media apps, consider limiting or turning off notifications.
  • Stay virtually connected to the people you care about: Social distancing does not mean you need to cut yourself off from the people you care about and those who support you. Phone or videocall friends and family every day. These connections can help you manage stress and anxiety by sharing your feelings. In addition, the people who know and care about you can often tell when you need urgent care or support from your mental health provider and can encourage you to get in touch with the provider or reach out to the provider on your behalf.
  • Take care of yourself: When dealing with mental health conditions, it can be difficult to prioritize healthy lifestyle choices. But working to eat as healthy as possible, get exercise, get adequate sleep, and use stress management tools like meditation, yoga, journaling, and breathing exercises can help you manage your symptoms. If you have a hard time getting motivated, reach out to friends and family and schedule a virtual group workout or meditation session.