Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As a science writer who’s passionate about public health and science communication, the last few weeks have been tough. I’ve experienced a wide range of emotions. I’ve felt upset, frustrated and angry.

Suddenly I’ve felt a responsibility to explain the importance of social distancing and hand hygiene to my friends here in Toronto, and my grandparents and relatives back in India. I’ve also tried to keep up with current news and opinions of thought leaders on Twitter. We’ve seen a lot of misinformation, some alarmist reporting, inconsistent messaging from governments, fear and panic leading to hoarding of canned food, toilet paper, and sanitizers, lockdowns, and overwhelmed healthcare workers.

At this time of uncertainty, where we’re having to practice social distancing and self-isolation, I decided to take a step back over the weekend to prioritize and focus on my mental health. Given what I’ve learned, here are some suggestions on how to take care of your mental health during COVID-19.

Mental health tips

1. Notice and acknowledge your feelings 

Don’t ignore your emotions. Take a break to unwind and take stock of how you are feeling and what’s happening around you. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Talk to your doctor/therapist if needed. Know that you’re not alone. In times of uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to remember that mental health affects our overall health. 

2. Notice negative thoughts, keep a journal, reflect and reframe 

When you notice a negative thought, look at your thought objectively and choose an alternative thought or belief that will help you feel better emotionally.

For example:  

  • When I felt worried about the COVID-19 outbreak and pandemic, I remembered that Dr. Tedros (the WHO Director-General) recently mentioned that this is a controllable pandemic. There are also a number of public health professionals, doctors, nurses, scientists, epidemiologists, health journalists sharing their opinions, creating strategies and policies and working tirelessly to help change this situation. It’s going to get better.
  • Yes, there has been inconsistent messaging and widespread panic. This has resulted in hoarding of canned foods and toilet papers. But there have also been several individuals who are coming forward to help their elderly neighbours. More acts of solidarity can be found here. 
  • Even though I’m isolated and staying at home, I know that I’m making this choice to not just protect myself but also the elderly population, the immunocompromised and healthcare workers who are on the front lines. Therefore, we are in this together and there is a sense of community and connectedness in this.

3. Focus on facts rather than speculations 

Try to limit yourself to only reading news from credible sources (WHO, CDC, NHS, Andre Picard – if you reside in Canada). You could also limit your social media time and turn off other news and notifications. There is a fine line between being informed and information overload.

4. Video calls over coffee meetups 

Social distancing doesn’t mean no social interaction. Reach out to your friends and family and set up video calls. They are effective and personal. For example, I reached out to my friend and had dinner with her over Google hangouts. Set boundaries. If you or your friends are getting sad or overwhelmed by conversations around COVID-19 news, make a conscious effort to talk about other things. For example, a book you read recently, an online course you are taking, a funny story from the past, or a show you’re watching on Netflix.

5. Make time to do things you enjoy 

It could be yoga, meditation, reading a book, baking, chatting with your best friend (via video call), or stepping into the backyard to catch some fresh air.

6. Remember to breathe 

While we are constantly being stimulated by information about Coronavirus in social media and news portals, take a moment to just breathe and be mindful.

It’s okay to ask for help.

Organizations and mental health professionals are seeing a surge in phone calls and emails for individuals seeking help and support. While many of us are worried, these can be particularly challenging times for those with general anxiety, health anxiety and/or obsessive-compulsive disorder involving repetitive hand washing to manage a fear of germs. Reach out for help and talk to your family doctor, therapist or counsellor. You’re not alone.

Disclosure: Our goal is to feature stories and topics that are useful to you. Please consult a mental health and/or HR expert to gain professional guidance on ways to prioritize your mental health.


mars 24, 2020


Krithika Muthukumaran


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