Millions of people across the globe are under lockdowns or stay-at-home orders during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Those with autoimmune or immuno-inflammatory conditions are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. Even so, the pandemic itself is a high-anxiety situation for most of us. Quarantining and isolating yourself at home may heighten feelings of anxiety and depression. Thus, prioritize your mental health to remain positive and productive while practicing social distancing. We’re sharing some mental health coping strategies to help you stay calm and happy despite these turbulent times.
Declutter for a clean mental headspace
The common saying “clean space, clean mind” does in fact have substance to back it! Numerous studies have established a strong association between clutter and poor mental health (1). Superfluous, distracting items in your environment occupy mental space and capacity, making it easier to fall into stress and anxiety. On a deeper biological level, humans crave organization in their surroundings because it reflects the organized, hierarchical structure and function within our own body and its systems (2). So take some time at the end of your day to clear your workspace or get that pile of clothes off of your chair!
Go to a location that makes you happy
Humans possess a mood-regulatory process in which positive memory retrieval is used to repair negative mood (3). This phenomenon explains why listening to songs from a happier time instantly lifts your mood. Furthermore, the outdoors and nature are fuel for better mental health, associated with lower stress, anxiety, and depression and improved memory (4).
Make sure to practice vigilance and strict hygiene, however! Don’t risk your health and safety while on your excursion. Sanitize the door handles, steering wheel, and gear stick before and after entering the car if you are driving. Make sure you are wearing a mask and gloves and stay at least 6 feet apart from other people who may be outside. Check out our other posts on disinfection and mitigation practices to lower your risk of infection.
Establish a regular sleep schedule
The body’s circadian rhythm regulates our physical, mental, and behavioral changes throughout the daily cycle. Consequently, strong deviations from normal waking hours or inconsistency in waking and sleeping habits can disturb this natural daily regulation. Very strong association and causative relationships have been established between a disrupted circadian rhythm and mood disorders (5). Therefore, it’s in your best interest to create a routine sleep schedule to follow every day. Check out our posts on natural methods and therapy-based online programs that can help you in your effort to improve your sleep.
Laugh! Even if you don’t feel like it.
Laughter causes an actual biological response in your body that directly counteracts the chemical basis of your poor mood and mental health. Laughing reduces the body’s stress response by decreasing levels of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine. Laughter also impacts the activity of dopamine and serotonin pathways in your brain, which are two major neurotransmitters that are downregulated in depressive and anxiety disorders (6).
In fact, the beneficial impact of laughter on mental health is so compelling that it is used as a therapeutic agent in cognitive behavioral therapy. Furthermore, laughing clubs and laughing yoga are becoming increasingly popular extracurricular activities used to lift moods and manage good systemic and mental health. So watch a comedy movie, throw on your favorite stand up show, and if nothing else works, just lean back and cackle!
Though these are uncertain times that indubitably cause unease and anxiousness, we hope that you can find some comfort in knowing that we are working through this together. Try out the mental health coping strategies we’ve suggested here and let us know if they bring you relief. You can also find additional resources on improving your mood and anxiety in our previous posts.
Written by: Bonnie Feldman, DDS, MBA, Ishita Dubey, Ellen M. Martin
- Clark, Matthew. “How Decluttering Your Space Could Make You Healthier and Happier.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 5 Apr. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/how-decluttering-your-space-could-make-you-healthier-and-happier/art-20390064.
- Ryback, Ralph. “The Powerful Psychology Behind Cleanliness.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 11 July 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-truisms-wellness/201607/the-powerful-psychology-behind-cleanliness.
- Rusting, Cheryl L., and Tracy Dehart. “Retrieving Positive Memories to Regulate Negative Mood: Consequences for Mood-Congruent Memory.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 78, no. 4, May 2000, pp. 737–752., doi:10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1247.
- Harvard Health Publishing. “Sour Mood Getting You down? Get Back to Nature.” Harvard Health, July 2018, www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/sour-mood-getting-you-down-get-back-to-nature.
- Walker, W.H., Walton, J.C., DeVries, A.C. et al. Circadian rhythm disruption and mental health. Transl Psychiatry 10, 28 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-020-0694-0
- Yim, Jongeun. “Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review.” The Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine, vol. 239, no. 3, July 2016, pp. 243–249., doi:10.1620/tjem.239.243.