In early April, 45% of the adults surveyed by the Kaiser Family Foundation said that stress and worry about the coronavirus had a negative effect on their mental health. Of those, one in five said the pandemic has taken a major toll on their mental wellbeing.

With more than two decades devoted to treating adults and kids with brain tumors at UCSD, Kevin Murphy, MD understands the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has on the brain. We have put together this information to help you understand the issues and stay strong through the crisis.

How the COVID-19 pandemic affects your mental health: Stress is a natural and expected response to any health crisis, but stress dramatically increases when the crisis is unparalleled in your lifetime and everyone is vulnerable. Even if the source of your stress is obvious because it’s the COVID-19 pandemic, defining what’s behind your feelings helps you gain a deeper understanding of the issues. Then it’s easier to be gentle with yourself and others when you’re at the edge of your emotional tolerance.

Here’s how the COVID-19 challenges affect your mental health

Fear of getting sick

Whether you worry about yourself, family, friends, or coworkers, there’s no getting away from the fear of becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus. Ongoing fear is a symptom of anxiety, which in turn affects your appetite, causes sleep problems, and significantly impacts your ability to cope with your daily life.

Fear also leads to other sources of stress as it fuels behaviors, like hoarding groceries. Whether or not you feel the need to hoard, you’ll certainly face the frustration of not finding the essential items you need at the store.

The emotional fallout of social distancing

Staying at home should relieve some of your fears about getting sick, but isolation comes with its own fallout. Social distancing separates you from the support and companionship of friends and family, which is incredibly difficult and depressing. Even if you’re at home with family, the reality of social isolation can still trigger loneliness, sadness, and anxiety. You may also find that spending all day, every day with your family is stressful and creates challenges, no matter how much you love them.

Worry about your finances

If you’re one of the millions who can’t go to work, you’re worried about your finances. Even if you have a nest egg to rely on, the uncertainty of when you’ll get back to work or if your job will still be available are overwhelming stressors that contribute to mental health problems.

Grief due to loss

Many people have experienced or will soon suffer the deep grief caused by the sudden death of friends and family. However, grief is a reaction to any loss, which means the COVID-19 pandemic may also cause grief over the loss of your job or health.

Steps to reduce the impact on your mental health

Acknowledging your feelings goes a long way toward diminishing their overall impact on your mental health. You can boost your resilience by telling yourself and your family that anxiety, depression, and sadness are normal and that you’ll overcome your current circumstances.

7 suggestions to help improve your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

  1. Limit the news: Sure, you need to know what’s going on in the world, but spending too much time listening to COVID-19 news only fuels stress, anxiety, and depression.
  2. Keep moving: Exercise is essential for relieving stress and maintaining your physical, mental, and emotional health. Dance at home, take a daily walk (maintaining social distancing), or learn yoga.
  3. Follow a routine: Creating and following a daily routine gives you and your family structure and a sense of normalcy that can help offset stress.
  4. Connect with technology: Set up times to talk with family and friends, whether face-to-face via videoconferencing, using chat on social media, or the old fashioned way: over the phone. Think outside the box. For example, you can have a dinner party or do a book club through a videoconference.
  5. Schedule time to play: Whether you and your family love board games, video games, or watching movies, get together at a specific time every night.
  6. Stay healthy: The foods you eat affect your mental and physical health, so make sure your meals are healthy. Getting a good night’s sleep is also vital for your mental health.
  7. Seek help: If you’re diagnosed with a mental health disorder, it’s essential to stick with your treatment program. You can safely refill your prescriptions using the drive-through at your pharmacy or talk with your pharmacist about home delivery.

Anyone who faces overwhelming mental health problems can connect with doctors and psychiatrists from home by using telehealth options. We’re also available to help with personalized repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (PrTMS), a proven treatment that quickly relieves anxiety, depression, and stress. Mental health services, including PrTMS, are considered essential during the pandemic and with the safety precautions we implemented, you can get the treatment you need.

We understand the mental health challenges you face during this time of crisis. If you need mental health support or you have questions, we’re here to help. Call Dr. Murphy’s staff at the MindSet office or connect with us using our online contact form.