Opinion | Fostering mental health amid the COVID-19 crisis

Opinion+%7C+Fostering+mental+health+amid+the+COVID-19+crisis

By Julia Kreutzer, Senior Staff Columnist

On Tuesday, I made it back to my hometown after spending the weekend galavanting around Toronto with three of my best friends. I had heard rumblings of rumored cases of COVID-19 in my area, but frankly, I didn’t think too much of it. I was excited to decompress at home for a few days and return to my second home, Pittsburgh, to finish out my semester.

Within a matter of days, my life was entirely different. I would not be returning to my apartment in Pittsburgh. Instead, I would be spending an indefinite amount of time in Montgomery County  — which, to make matters worse, has been called the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic in the state by Gov. Tom Wolf.

Humans love certainty. For individuals who suffer from chronic anxiety, this sentiment proves especially true. Needless to say, the rapid unravelings of the status quo can reap catastrophic consequences on the mental health of countless people, especially those who already suffer with anxiety.

The question arises — how do we, as people who constantly fear that the world is ending, confront what often feels like the end of the world? Some of us may be self-isolating, some of us may be in quarantine, some of us may know someone who has tested positive for the disease, some of us may have it ourselves, some of us may never contract it at all. Finding tangible ways to take each day at a time by meaningfully and mindfully filling our days is essential to preserving our mental health during a time of unprecedented stressors.

At a time when it feels like no response is the correct response, contextualizing and validating our emotions is essential to reducing panic and preserving our mental health. When I found out about Pitt’s decision to move the entire semester to online learning mediums, I was not only devastated, but also overwhelmed with fear. What would happen to my friends, belongings and extracurriculars?

I felt shame for feeling such panic and heartache at a time when people, as close as in my own community, are losing their lives in this pandemic. While it is important to empathize with those whose lives are being threatened, it is also essential that we show ourselves compassion and understanding as we lose control over most aspects of our lives. Our ability to assert control and plan our own lives is a pivotal element of human nature, and losing it is a staggering loss in and of itself. According to Stanford philosophy professor Michael Bratman, knowing our next steps is an integral element to our sense of stability.

“People’s ability to make rational plans is essential to their sense of personal freedom and autonomy,” said Bratman. 

 

Ending this cycle of comparison is critical for caring for ourselves. Our trauma is trauma, regardless of how it contrasts the plight of others around us.

Limiting our social media or news intake is a tangible way to do this. While it is necessary to stay informed, a large percentage of media coverage has been rooted in politics and fearmongering rather than solely facts on ways to protect ourselves. Kalev Leetaru of RealClearPolitics argues that the coverage of the pandemic in association with political leaders and supply shortages has done little for the public other than increase fears and induce panic.

“The media’s wall-to-wall coverage of the coronavirus outbreak played a measurable role in driving public attention to the virus and likely worsening behaviors such as panic buying,” Leetaru said. “The outbreak is being contextualized as a political and economic story —

delivering a dose of panic in the process — rather than a public health emergency that requires clinical and dispassionate reporting.”

There is a difference between staying up-to-date and falling down a wormhole of frightening information. I’ve started the practice of turning to trusted news outlets in the morning — check out The New York Times with your free Pitt subscription or the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which has made coverage of coronavirus stories accessible regardless of whether you have a subscription — and filling the rest of my day with uplifting movies, music, TV shows and books. Take your pets for a walk. Draw outside. Read poetry. Turn the month-old cake mix in your pantry into a late-night treat. There is no need to live in the darkness when we have access to happy and safe spaces through literature, art and even our smartphones.

If you’re struggling, seek help. Connect with friends on Facetime or talk candidly with members of your household. Lean on those you trust in this time of stress, even if it has to be from 6 feet away. For those who see therapists or psychologists, check to see if they are offering Skype sessions. Practice mindfulness by doing an at-home yoga session or using a meditation app. It is critical to stick to your mental health regimen regardless of what outside triggers may be affecting your day-to-day life or long-term plans.

It feels like the world is bracing. We are clinging to our loved ones, the things we care about and any semblance of normalcy for dear life. Be gentle with yourselves and those around you. Let yourself strive for calm.

Julia writes mostly about social issues and politics. Write to Julia at jrk142@pitt.edu. 

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