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How to stay sane during self-isolation and social distancing

Many people are grappling with stress, change, and the unknown when it comes to the COVID-19 outbreak. Here are some things you can do to stay mentally healthy.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — Even for the healthiest amongst us, the stress and fear around the global coronavirus pandemic can be anxiety-inducing and even crippling. 

Whether it's the fear of getting infected, an anxiety around loss of income, or the stress of having to keep our family and community safe during this upheaval, it all adds up to frayed nerves and mental anguish that can impact our overall health. 

"One one side we have people that are extremely stressed by their work, and are trying to keep things running, whether you’re running a restaurant or you’re running a health care system. You’re just trying to keep the ship afloat right now, financially or trying to provide services for people. And then on the other end of the spectrum, we have individuals that are just sitting, that are bored, and wondering, what do I do with all this time," said Dr. Steve Kopp, executive director of Genesis Psychology Associates. 

"It is a lot of stress and pressure."

He offers these tips to keep a healthy balance and maintain wellness during this outbreak:

“Unplug” from the pandemic!: Repeatedly watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media, is upsetting and taxes your nervous system. Take breaks from it.

Take care of your body and it will take care of you: Take deep breaths regularly, stretch, and practice mindfulness. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs. Limit caffeine as it increases anxiety and stimulation.

Plan time to unwind: Do activities you enjoy. We need to balance ourselves with hobbies and healthy escapism. Relaxation, laughter, and smiling are beacons that you’re doing something right.

Social “distancing” doesn’t mean “disconnected.” We are social creatures.  Stay connected to those you love. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. Sharing your feelings makes others who are internalizing their struggles feel more normal. Neuroscience suggests, “name it, to tame it” when dealing with our anxieties and fears. Give it a try!

Take advantage of the time stuck in the house with those you love: Binge your favorite shows and movies together. Or play games. Enjoy the fact that the world has slowed down a bit. Even better, add fresh popcorn or a warm chocolate cake. Makes the house feel warm and relaxing.

Limit worries about the future: Stay in the here and now. Focus on what you can control.

Dr. Kopp said having structure and routine in your day also helps younger family members, and pacing yourself and allowing yourself to take a break helps build your mental strength and resiliency. 

"One of the things you can do to face stress well is to pace yourself through it," he said. "Being mentally resilient is a lot like being physically resilient."