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7 Tips for Managing Your Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

During this time of physical distancing and uncertainty, many older adults and caregivers are feeling isolated, lonely, agitated, and withdrawn. Those with underlying behavioral health conditions, such as depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, and previous substance use disorder, are at particularly high risk for negative outcomes, including severe anxiety, substance use relapse and thoughts of suicide.

It’s critically important for you to stay in touch with your counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist if you have an existing mental health condition or substance use disorder. Telemedicine—video or phone chat—is the safest way right now to have an appointment. The good news is that under Medicare, healthcare providers can reduce or waive cost-sharing for telemedicine visits. (Check with your provider about specifics.)

Relieving stress and anxiety is also critically important now. Here are seven tips that all of us can use as we navigate these uncertain times:

  1. Stay informed and take practical steps to protect yourself and loved ones. Get the facts from trusted sources such as the CDC, the World Health Organization, your local health department, and NCOA. Do not stay glued to the news as this will only worsen the distress you may be feeling right now.
  2. Engage in healthy activities: Get 7-9 hours of sleep each night; eat a healthy, well-balanced diet; do not smoke; drink no more than 1 alcoholic drink per day or none at all, per your doctor’s instructions; and, finally, exercise your body and mind. Meditation, walking, gardening, and doing exercise routines in your home are all beneficial to your mental health.
  3. Make sure you have at least a one-month supply of the prescription and over-the-counter medications you need to manage your mental health and other on-going conditions. Take all your medications as directed by your health care providers. Go to BenefitsCheckUp.org if you need assistance paying for your prescription medications.
  4. Stick to regular routines as much as possible. You may need to create a new routine to account for working at home, exercising indoors, caring for grandchildren, cleaning, and other daily activities. Integrate old and new enjoyable hobbies into your daily routine.
  5. Stay connected with your family, friends, and other support networks (faith, hobbies, etc.). Having someone to talk to about your needs and feelings is vital for mental health. Make a commitment to contact at least one person per day for continued social connection through telephone, or e-mail, video conference, and social media, if you have Internet access. Consider asking one person to be your support buddy and have daily check-ins. If you are a member of a peer support group, stay connected through the telephone or a video platform such as Zoom. Many groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, are moving meetings to digital platforms.
  6. Try as much as possible to be positive and relish the simple things in life. So many people across the country are helping their neighbors and communities during this crisis. After this pandemic is over, it is hopeful that we will be stronger, kinder, and more connected with each other.
  7. Help others, through peer support, neighbor checking, and childcare for medical personnel restricted in hospitals fighting against COVID-19 when safe to do so. Helping others gives us a sense of purpose and feelings of control during these uncertain times.

Mental Health Resources

National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI)
Contact your NAMI Affiliate to find out what types of programs and supports they offer.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-8255
Free and confidential support and resources, 24/7.

Disaster Distress Helpline
1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746
A toll-free, 24/7, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service, available to all U.S. and U.S. territory residents. Run by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

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Kathleen Cameron

About Kathleen A. Cameron, BSPharm, MPH

Kathleen A. Cameron, BSPharm, MPH, is Senior Director of NCOA's Center for Healthy Aging. Kathy has more than 25 years of experience in the health care field as a pharmacist, researcher, and program director focusing on falls prevention, geriatric pharmacotherapy, mental health, long-term services and supports, and caregiving. She is also the Senior Director of the National Falls Prevention Resource Center.

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