How to Manage Mental Health, Grief & Addiction During COVID-19, According to a Psychologist

It’s not easy, especially now.

By Melanie Haid
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UPDATE: This article has been updated with new information on September 12, 2020, 6:00 a.m.

The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly changed life as we know it. Now, the majority of Americans are working from home, many states have issued stay at home orders, and the massive movement to socially distance has brought shock and isolation to our daily lives. As the virus and the uncertainty of the future continues to spread, what can you do to manage mental health, grief, and even addiction during this difficult time?

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DoctorOz.com spoke to psychologist Dr. Juhee Jhalani to find out the best ways to do this for the foreseeable future of the pandemic. From learning to adjust and manage your mindset to learning to control what you can, here are her recommendations:

Control What You Can

The restrictions COVID-19 imposed on daily life may have caused your routine to go out the window. But Dr. Jhalani says that maintaining a routine is essential during this time.

Since you no longer have the kind of structure you’re used to, it’s important to make a new routine. Keep up with personal hygiene, get dressed for work (even at home), eat healthy, and remember to drink enough water. You should also try to stay active, by scheduling a walk outside or an indoor workout in your day, and maintain your bedtime and wake up time as if you had to get up and commute into the office. All of these things can make your days feel a bit more normal, despite everything around you changing which can be beneficial to your overall well being.

Manage Your Mindset

Forty-five percent of adults say that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental health according to an April 2020 poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. This statistic seems to make sense in relation to the social distancing that has been ordered by local governments to stop the spread. As a result of distancing measures, social isolation can happen.

“There are serious mental and physical side effects of social isolation,” says Dr. Jhalani. These can include heightened risks of depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, obesity, cognitive decline and even a compromised immune system. While there’s no immediate cause for alarm (those risks may occur over serious stretches of time), there are tools to help ease the strain of social distancing to feel closer to people that you can’t physically see.

“Address [your] social isolation by staying socially connected in today’s digital age via emails, telephone, text, online video chats, and apps. Carve out time every day in your schedule for social connection,” recommends Dr. Jhalani.

If you feel like therapy may be what you need to work through your feelings, you can get the help you need virtually. If you already have a therapist talk to him or her about continuing sessions virtually. If you don’t have one, research therapists to find one that’s right for you on websites like Psychology Today and ZocDoc. Whether you’re just starting or continuing therapy, Dr. Jhalani recommends “HIPAA-compliant platforms” to protect your privacy — these are video therapy sessions and calls that follow medical privacy and security rules to protect your information. Some platforms, like therapy apps, may not be HIPAA-compliant, so Jhalani recommends doing your research beforehand.

If you are unable to afford therapy, Dr. Jhalani says talking to someone you trust is another way to gain perspective on your mental health. She also recommends looking into your insurance. Some commercial insurance plans may waive costs for phone and televideo sessions, which could make the cost more manageable. Some states, like New York, are even providing free mental health services and resources. Take a look online to see if your state is offering similar programs during the pandemic. Things like journaling, keeping up with daily tasks, and working to make life as normal as possible — including taking any medication you are prescribed — are also important to maintain a healthy balance.

How to Grieve When Nothing Seems Certain

At a time where the world seems disconnected, it can be hard to process your feelings. Many special events like weddings and graduations are being cancelled. Funerals are being put on hold. Even expectant mothers are being told they’re not allowed to have people in the delivery room with them. With no definite relief in sight, how are you supposed to process all the changes?

It’s important to put yourself first and recognize what you’re feeling. “Practice self-compassion at this time. It is okay to feel what you’re feeling — allow yourself to grieve,” says Dr. Jhalani. She also recommends to stop sugar-coating your feelings. Admit to yourself and others what you’ve lost, and continue to have conversations from there with friends, family members, and therapists if needed to process everything. Even without a major loss, everyone is now without the freedoms that we once took for granted, and that can be difficult to process as well. “You are playing your role in slowing the spread of the virus and protecting the vulnerable,” says Dr. Jhalani. It is important to find comfort and strength in that fact.

Keeping Addiction at Bay During Isolation

For those struggling with addiction, it is extremely important to maintain your recovery routine to the best of your ability. Dr. Jhalani says the best way to do this is to stay in contact with your healthcare provider through telemedicine methods.

If you were attending group therapy for your addiction, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), talk to your healthcare provider or sponsor and continue to seek support on online platforms. AA offers online meetings for continued support during social distancing. Additionally, sites like the National Institute of Drug Abuse can provide resources for how to get support and maintain a healthy lifestyle. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has provided various resources, including in confidential chat rooms and video calls, for recovery purposes.

This is a difficult time for everyone — no one is unaffected by COVID-19. Make a point to stay in touch with loved ones, maintain a routine as best as you can, and seek professional help if you feel like you need it. If you need immediate assistance, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Disaster Distress Hotline at 1-800-985-5990 or text "TalkWithUs" to 66746. 

Related:

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Article written by Melanie Haid