Opinion: Take care of your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic

by Shayne Jones, Staff Writer

I sat cross-legged under the crumpled sheets of my childhood bed in an oversized t-shirt which I’d neglected to change out of for three days, consuming what most likely exceeds the serving size of cottage cheese that any sane person would dare eat (let alone admit to eating) and thought: should I be worried? 

As the number of American citizens affected by COVID-19 evades our control, so too does control evade us. That sense of uncertainty, of feeling discomfort in environments where we are normally comfortable, can be unhinging for some. 

For those struggling with pre-existing mental health conditions, this pandemic is not only a fight against the unknown, but a battle against what’s already within us. For those who don’t normally struggle with mental health, the pandemic may force a simulated depression that can be confusing and difficult to navigate. No one is untouched by this virus, and it’s crucial we realize that. 

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be done about it. 

Our first defense is understanding. Acknowledge your emotions and allow yourself to feel them. If you can put a name to the specific emotion in the moment you feel it, even better. Don’t feel pressured to find a way out of the feeling, but don’t dwell in it. Take a walk with it — six feet apart, of course — entertain it for a bit and then say goodbye at the curb. 

The second defense is acceptance. If you can accept that forces beyond your control have transformed reality as you know it (at least for now) you will be pleasantly surprised by how well you adjust to that new reality. Accept the uncertainty and what felt like a trap before might start to feel like the exact opposite.

A final defense is knowledge. Learning what you can about the coronavirus, like how and why it’s so contagious, may give you an unexpected sense of control. The more you learn, the more that feeling of uncertainty may begin to dissipate. This is not to say that the feeling will go away completely, but even the slightest ounce of control gained over the situation can be monumental from a mental health perspective.

Like all things, this too shall pass. It may not feel like it at the moment, but it will. 

I’m not a healthcare professional and I’ve never lived through a pandemic before, but I know what it feels like to be stuck in a prison of my own making and how easy it is to succumb to your sentence because it seems safer than fighting for your freedom. 

Your mental health is more than important in this pandemic. It’s essential. So take it seriously. Stay active, keep healthy, get fresh air, read books, cuddle with your pet, make a phone appointment with your therapist and talk to a friend. Be aware of your present circumstances, but don’t be moored to them. 

This is your life, not the pandemic’s. Remember that. 

Shayne Jones is a senior studying journalism. Follow her on Twitter @shaynejones.