3 ways to protect your mental health during – and after – COVID-19

mindful

(Lesly Juarez, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Karen Rommelfanger, Director, Neuroethics Program, Emory University & Alvaro Fernández Ibáñez, Chief Executive Officer and Editor-in-Chief, SharpBrains


  • Understanding how the COVID-19 pandemic and measures to prevent the virus’ transmission affect our mental health can help us adapt;
  • From focusing on everyday boosts to mental health to empowering our communities, these expert recommendations can help.
  • Improving our mental health hygiene now could help us create a “new normal” for mental well-being in the future.

How many of us right now are experiencing a heady cocktail of confusion, anxiety and even some surprising moments of respite from our pre-COVID-19, always-on-the-go culture?

In a new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 45% of Americans felt that the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health (19% felt it had a “major impact”).

Our traditional media and social media feeds are filled with urgent and often conflicting imperatives to change our routines and be constantly vigilant.

The online onslaught of rapidly updating media stories reporting worst-case scenarios can fuel fear and panic. Uncritical overconsumption of such messages can erode one of our most precious and essential human resources for weathering the COVID-19 storm: our mental health.

Even before the virus outbreak, depression and anxiety have been noted as defining features of our times. Isolation and uncertainty are not going to help us deal with the new realities of our newly virtual lives – virtual work, virtual schools and virtual family care – under the incredible stress of unfamiliar circumstances.

An opportunity for a new normal for mental health

How can we boost our mental health in the COVID-19 era to minimize the impact of the virus and the “social distancing” in our lives, and to develop a healthier and more resilient “new normal” for the future? Will we finally pay serious attention to the link between stress regulation and our health and well-being?

Image: World Health Organization

Firstly, there are five facts about stress, the brain and mental health that can help. There is virtually no disease, illness or injury that is not aided by good mental health. Why?

1. Our brains and our immune system are deeply linked to each other. The immune system is the prime mediator of environmental agents such as microbes, chemicals and the infamous COVID-19. It is intimately linked to our mood and to a number of brain maladies from Alzheimer’s disease to stroke and depression.

2. Stress is normal and can be healthy (and spur healthy behaviours: think of a zebra trying to escape a rapidly approaching lion), but too much sustained stress is not. High and unregulated levels of stress have a number of negative consequences on the brain, immunity and the vascular system, leading to blood sugar imbalances, high blood pressure and impaired immunity and inflammatory responses – the very precise opposite of what we need to fight the potential impact from COVID-19 exposure.

4. Mindfulness and relaxation techniques can improve mood and sleep quality through enhancing control over the body’s arousal system and focus as well as managing anxiety and concerns.

5. Investing in mental health pays long-lasting dividends. Studies have shown that future mental and physical health are related to previous investments in mental and physical health. The earlier the better – but it’s never too late.

A healthier ‘new normal’: three habits for good mental hygiene to beat COVID-19

These five facts show the significant physical and mental health challenge at hand – and a substantial opportunity. How do we put it all together?

1. Focus every day on what you can do and take action – no matter how small. Low-tech and even no-tech solutions matter, a lot. Go outside and appreciate nature (as allowed by your local guidelines) at a slower pace to get a daily dose of physical exercise, relaxation and vitamin D. Call that relative or friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Practice in these next few weeks to be in the moment, more mindful and supportive of those around you. We can all learn to be more flexible and have acceptance (which is not the same as acquiescence) of what we can do with the present rather than what we cannot do.

2. Explore – even shape – the new mental health toolkit. COVID-19 is bringing massive attention to the growing resources available online. Let’s explore and master the full breadth of opportunities for meaningful social connection, mindfulness, self-care, distance learning, telemedicine and beyond. There’s no time like the present to review our use of tech in general and mental health tech in particular. Apps won’t magically grant wellness, sleep or an end to poor mental health, but they are tools that we can learn to use with wisdom.

The Global Future Council on Technology for Mental Health has issued a call to action to empower 8 billion minds via wise and ethical development and adoption of a wide array of emerging technologies.

How technology can support better mental health
How technology can support better mental health
Image: Alvaro Fernandez Ibanez and Karen Rommelfanger

In response to COVID-19, many developers are offering free online tools which can be used to spark more self-reflection and to develop better sleep, exercise and self-care habits.

Cultivating these habits can have significant and most timely effects such as changes in our immune systems. If widespread enough, this realization can revolutionize how we tackle general and mental health going forward.

3. Empower those around you. We can all take ownership of and be supportive and responsive to our communities – our families, neighbourhoods, work, societies. A recent US study has shown that the most effective public health messages in slowing the spread of COVID-19 are those that focus on considerations of duty and responsibility to family, friends, and fellow citizens, not just our own personal agenda.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

A new strain of Coronavirus, COVID 19, is spreading around the world, causing deaths and major disruption to the global economy.

Responding to this crisis requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

The Forum has created the COVID Action Platform, a global platform to convene the business community for collective action, protect people’s livelihoods and facilitate business continuity, and mobilize support for the COVID-19 response. The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

We’re in a moment of “increasing revelatory tension”; for the first time for many of us, we are seeing how the “old normal” in terms of both physical and mental health can take a backseat in the prioritizations of daily life.

We have an opportunity before us to establish an even stronger and more resilient global community, one that practises both physical and mental hygiene. Now is the time for individual and collective action to shift to a healthier “new normal” for all.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Water pollution is killing millions of Indians. Here’s how technology and reliable data can change that

America’s student debt crisis explained

Volkswagen scandal update: “We want clarity fast, but it is equally important to have the complete picture”, Commission’s spokesperson underscores from Brussels

Growth is running out of steam. How do we prepare for the next crisis?

‘Highly explosive’ escalation of conflict and displacement across Syria’s Idlib, says top UN official

Time is running out to protect Africa’s forests

The EU Consumer Policy on the Digital Market: A Behavioral Economics View

A new bioeconomy strategy for a sustainable Europe

Saudi Arabia, China, among 14 nations under UN human rights spotlight: what you need to know

China in My Suburbs

World Youth Skills Day: What you need to know for 2020

Can India reduce deaths on one hazardous road to zero? This group is trying

These are the regions where people have most faith in their schools

Do men and women really have different leadership styles?

We can solve climate change – if we involve women

“As long as we work together through thick and thin, more benefits can be delivered to the people of Eurasia”, China’s Premier Li Keqiang highlights from ASEM in Brussels

3 vital steps to a new gender equality playbook

New UN bullying report calls for ‘safe, inclusive’ schools for all children

Trade: EU and 16 WTO members agree to work together on an interim appeal arbitration arrangement

Costa Rica has doubled its tropical rainforests in just a few decades. Here’s how

German opposition win in Lower Saxony felt all over Europe

Chart of the day: This is why we need to protect nature’s pollinators

Iran: BBC and other broadcast journalists harassed; families threatened – UN experts

5 things you need to know about water

To Brexit or not to Brexit: British exceptionalism doesn’t allow any Obama telling Brits what to do

3 steps to boost your digital safety while working from home

What can smallpox teach us about how we’ve managed COVID-19?

EU: Huge surplus in the trade of services with the rest of the world

Concern rising over fate of Rohingya refugees sent home by India: UNHCR

Why this moment could be decisive for tackling climate change: Report

New phenomena in the EU labour market

This start-up is 3D-printing an entire neighbourhood in Mexico

This is how countries compare on gun deaths

EU Council: Private web data to be protected by…abusers

Deeper reforms in Korea will ensure more inclusive and sustainable growth

Italian divers just rescued a whale caught in ‘ghost’ fishing nets

Why a multi-stakeholder approach is essential to our risk resiliency

Good grub: why we might be eating insects soon

New European frontiers for renewable energy development

Latest leaked TTIP document confirms EU sovereignty may be under threat

4 ways 3D printing can revolutionize manufacturing

A Sting Exclusive: “Climate Change needs to be demystified”, Anneli Jättenmäki Vice President of European Parliament underscores from Brussels

Newly-elected Nigerian UN General Assembly President pledges focus on ‘peace and prosperity’ for most vulnerable

Yemen: ‘Living hell’ for all children, says UNICEF; Angelia Jolie calls for ‘lasting ceasefire’

UN global education envoy urges new funding for ‘lost generation’ of children forced out of classrooms by conflict

Will the EU ever tackle the migration crisis despite the lack of political will?

Missile strike kills at least 12 civilians, including children, in Syria’s Idlib: UN humanitarians

To solve the climate crisis, we need an investment revolution

Global migration, by the numbers: who migrates, where they go and why

Merkel: Nationalism and egoism must never have a chance again in Europe

UN-backed intercultural dialogue forum urged to keep working to ‘bridge gap between the like-minded’

Faith can overcome religious nationalism. Here’s how

‘Reasons to hope’ for sustainable peace in Central African Republic – UN Mission chief

Mergers: Commission clears E.ON’s acquisition of Innogy, subject to conditions

Don’t let smoking steal life’s breathtaking moments, urges UN health agency

How I met the Panda Woman

4 fixes for equipment supply chains before the next COVID-19 waves hit

Eurozone: Bank resolution proposal gains wider interest

‘Multiplicity’ of rights violations in Ukraine as fifth winter of conflict bites

London is planting a giant bee corridor to boost insect numbers

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s