Many of us are beginning to return to work, school, church, and other life routines. Some welcome this return to “normal.” For others, it brings anxiety and fear. While COVID continues to ebb and flow around us, you may be wondering how to support your mental health in a pandemic. 

Know what you can control

Our mental health is often impacted by things that are happening around us that are outside of our control. The pandemic is no clearer example of this. You may have discovered that the more you try to control things you have no influence over, the more your anxiety rises. Precision Nutrition illustrates what this looks like in the diagram below. 

When life feels like it’s hurdling out of control, return to the central sphere that you have total control over and start adjusting those first. This is the starting point to support your mental health today and in the future. 

Make shorter-term plans

While you’re identifying what you can control and what you cannot, don’t stop planning, dreaming, and setting goals. Doing so elevates hope, which is a good way to support your mental health. But in your planning and dreaming, hold your future loosely. Clinging too tightly to what you expect to happen at a future date will lead to disappointment and stress later when you need to “pivot.” Look days and weeks ahead instead of months and years. If you’re a business owner or educational institution, make plans for the next quarter instead of the next year, knowing that at any point you may be forced to adapt to things outside of your control.

Get outside

The physical space in which you spend time either positively or negatively impacts your wellbeing. Environmental psychology studies support the positive impact of nature on mental health. Spending time outside supports your mental health as well as your spiritual and physical health. As an example, cortisol levels (stress hormones) are positively impacted by nature and, therefore, reduces the risk of health issues like high blood pressure and tachycardia. Spending more time outdoors and less time on electronic devices can also lead to better problem solving and creativity. 

Connect with others

During this season of social distancing and isolation, our social wellbeing has suffered. We are less connected to one another. To support your mental health, carve out intentional time to talk to a friend, family member, or co-worker on a regular basis. Even a friendly hello to a stranger in the coffee shop or the cashier in the drive-thru can lift your mood. Set aside time to truly connect with people you trust and ask them how they are doing. Empathy goes a long way to support your mental health.

Whether you’re excited for the days to come or anxious about them, knowing how to support your mental health in a pandemic will help you navigate life better. Knowing what you can control, making shorter term plans, getting outside, and connecting with others will help support your wellbeing during this next season of life, no matter what lies ahead.