Managing my Mental Health During COVID-19

Author: Aubrey Good

In December I uprooted everything I had known in my adult life to move across the country to start fresh in a new location. By uprooting everything, I mean everything: my living situation, career, relationships, social activities, routine, weather… you name it. I even went and rescued a dog a month before the move as though I did not have anything to deal with!

I gracefully navigated the stress and chaos of the cross-country move during the holiday season. I thought that I was in the clear with my bipolar disorder but the holidays brought out the cracks in my calm demeanor. Once we returned back to our new home and settled in I was on the precipice of a depressive episode as I realized that I had nowhere to be during the day or anyone to spend time with outside of my husband.

Routine has become one of the most important factors of managing my bipolar disorder. It was crucial that I did not spend too long wandering aimlessly without a routine or I would have found myself sinking deeper into depression. I have spent the last three months developing a new routine that keeps me active, social, and mentally well. I joined a gym, became an active participant at a local parish, balanced housework and school with professional work, and set aside time each day for self-care. My life was falling into place and I truly felt like I was thriving… until the coronavirus happened.

In quick succession all of my activities, events, and daily routines have been either postponed, canceled, or altered. Though vital to putting a stop to the spread of COVID-19, having to distance myself socially and quarantine have left me feeling like I am back to square one. However, if I have learned anything over the last few months it is that we can plan ahead and outline new routines that we can adapt and implement during times of crises by focusing on those factors that remain within our control.

As an example, here is the routine I have created to stay mentally well during COVID-19 quarantine:

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule, waking up and going to sleep at the same time I do under normal circumstances
  • Set a limit to my screen time, especially social media. Consuming too much content regarding the coronavirus can increase feelings of anxiety, mania, or depression. Ask myself what my intentions are when picking up my phone: is it for work, school, or social purposes or will I just be browsing content aimlessly?
  • Contact at least 1 loved one or friend a day whether it be a phone call, text, or online. This could be to check-in on that person or to engage in a conversation. I can be social from a distance!
  • Pick 3 major goals for each day to accomplish during the week. Mine are schoolwork, work assignments, and house chores.
  • Journal. Expressing my thoughts and feelings on paper can help me identify how I am thinking and feeling and then release.
  • Meditate. I use the Calm app if I begin to feel distracted or overwhelmed to clear my mind.
  • Exercise. Exercising greatly reduces my feelings of anxiety but also gives me a sense of accomplishment post-workout. There are a ton of great blogs and videos online that offer at-home workouts that can be done even without any exercise equipment. If I can’t workout, taking my dogs for a walk is a great way to also get outdoors while being physically active.
  • Pick a book to read before bedtime instead of getting stuck binging a movie/show on Netflix.

A “crisis routine” will look different for everyone depending on your individual needs, interests, environment, etc. The important thing here is just to have a routine. By structuring your days around your normal sleep cycle, eating habits, and other factors in your control, you can stay proactive in managing your mental health during times when so much is out of our control!

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