Maintaining Mental Health During COVID-19

person chatting on laptop smiling


We are living in unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how most of us go about our daily lives, and the future of this outbreak is uncertain. In this time when physical health and safety pervades media outlets and conversations, Department of Counseling Psychology Professor and Chair Dan Rosen, PhD, encourages us to take stock of our mental health. There are a lot of unknowns, which can lead to feelings of distress, depression and even grief.  Here are some tips to get us through this period of social distancing and sheltering in place.

  • Stay in regular contact with a few people. Let them know about your day, even the more monotonous details — these are things that we can all relate to right now. Applications like FaceTime and Zoom provide the additional benefit of seeing the face of a loved one. Talk about your mood, your fears, your hopes and anything else that might provide a feeling of connection. Do you need any support? Be curious about the experience of the person you’re talking with and remember to ask questions.
  • Reach out to a few people each day/week with whom you’ve been out of touch. Scroll through your contacts and see whose name jumps, and let them know that you’re thinking of them. It is easy to feel lonely and isolated right now, and it might help to remember your connections to other people, whether they are old friends from grade school or someone you met just last month. They will likely appreciate it, too.
  • Organize a group call/Zoom meeting with your lunch group at work. People crave routine, and who we have meals with during the week is a big part of that. There are lots of options: Netflix viewing parties, book clubs, karaoke and sing-a-longs, online happy hours, and many more. Is this as fun as meeting in person? Probably not. Is it better than nothing? Most likely — give it a try.
  • Buy only what you need. Intertwined with our need for social connection are the very human pressures and impulses of self-preservation and survival. While it is true that we all need a few basics to make it through these days, we can understand and control impulsive purchasing behaviors by considering their function, as well as considering the needs of others. Slowing down and checking in with ourselves about our motivations helps us to both curb unchecked self-interestedness and meet our own psychological needs. Dealing with present-day stress and anxiety needs to be taken seriously, and lots of good science is out there to calm both our minds and nervous systems, even in solitude.
  • Notice who needs help and support. There are a lot of people suffering out there, and if you have the means to give, now is a good time to do so. Making a financial contribution to a non-profit doing good work is a way to help take care of the most vulnerable in our community. If you are not able to give financially, and that is many of us right now, looking out for neighbors, checking-in on elders, giving blood, doing chores for essential workers, or anything else  that inspires you may go a long way to feeling connected to your broader community.
  • Move your body. Now more than ever, it’s important to get some form of physical activity, and fortunately outdoor activities are still an option that we can enjoy! As the days become warmer and brigher, we can improve our mental health by taking even a 20-minute (socially-distanced) walk outdoors. A little vitamin D and exercise goes a long way to improve mood.
  • Make a list of the things you enjoy. How many of these can be moved online? The list may be longer than you think.

While maintaining social connections during these times is an extraordinary challenge, there are still things that we can all do, even (and especially) when we don’t feel like it.


About the author

Dan Rosen, PhD, is a Bastyr Professor and Chair of the Department of Counseling & Health Psychology.