Many countries, states, cities, and towns are experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases. Others are preparing for that possibility. This development has introduced more uncertainty and stress to an already difficult situation.
“A rise in cases can make it harder for people to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” explains Stephanie Tung, MD, a psychiatrist in Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care at Dana-Farber. “We need to recognize that this is hard and work to discover new ways to find joy.”
Below are a series of suggestions from Tung on how to prepare for a potential second COVID-19 surge.
Don’t postpone life altogether — but do adhere to safety precautions
At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, many people were under the mindset that the virus would be contained relatively quickly. As the pandemic continues, and the timeline remains uncertain, it’s important for people to discover new ways to find joy in their daily lives.
While you should continue to adhere to safety precautions, don’t postpone life until after the pandemic. Try to enjoy the present moment by finding a hobby you can do safely, such as hiking, reading and writing, or an arts and crafts project. These will give you something to look forward to and allow you to switch up your daily routine.
If you feel comfortable doing so, and if it can be done safely, enjoy a local getaway or a picnic outdoors (weather permitting). Both are great ways to experience a change of scenery.
Create a schedule
Creating and sticking to a schedule is another way to maintain good mental health. When constructing your schedule, be sure to build in breaks and time for yourself, even if it’s only for a few minutes for a short walk outside. These breaks are a great way to reset and allow you to focus on something else for a moment.
With many adults and students now learning from home, creating a schedule is also an excellent way to maximize space. If you find yourself competing for privacy, put together a schedule to determine who gets to use each area and at what time.
Staying connected while avoiding video fatigue
It’s important to remain connected to the people you care about, but with most gatherings now happening over video conferencing, even fun personal calls may feel like a chore. While effective, video calls cannot seamlessly replicate the in-person experience, often leaving us tired and mentally drained following meetings.
One way to address this fatigue is by using other forms of technology to stay connected. Instead of scheduling a video meeting, call the person or write them an email (or letter) instead. If you’re calling someone, try having your conversation while on a walk; this allows you to step away from your computer screen and also engage in an active activity.
Occupying the same household during the day is not the same as being together. It’s important to schedule intentional activity. It doesn’t matter if it’s a family game night, dinner, or watching a movie — just make sure to find something everyone enjoys.
In addition, don’t shy away from taking time for yourself as needed. It can become impossible to care for others if you don’t first care for yourself.
Join a group
Find a hobby or activity you enjoy, and then connect with others who share the same interest. Joining a group (even if it’s just virtually) allows you to meet new people and share stories, which in turn helps keep the brain active by creating new experiences and memories.
COVID-19 has introduced countless new obstacles and challenges. It’s important to acknowledge there are things out of your control. For example, you may be trying to fulfill your job responsibilities while also caring for your family. Be sure to have open communication with your company and explain your current situation. Everyone is adapting to these new circumstances and it’s important to not be overly hard on yourself for things you can’t change (such as schools closing or cramped work environments).
Remember to stay vigilant
In addition to caring for your mental health, it’s important that everyone continues to work to prevent the spread of the virus. This means taking steps such as:
- Wearing a mask when out in public
- Maintaining physical distancing (at least 6 feet) from people who aren’t in your household
- Practicing frequent hand washing
- Always covering your coughs and sneezes
People who are physically present at their jobs should make sure to be familiar with company policies on COVID-19, including what to do if you are experiencing symptoms or have come in contact with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19.
About the Medical Reviewer
Dr. Stephanie Tung is a staff psychiatrist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. She has subspecialty training in medical psychiatry, psychosocial oncology and women's mental health.