7 Mental Health Tips While Social Distancing

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Your compliance with being socially distant (being at least six feet from others) and confining yourself to home is, to date, helping North American healthcare systems not become overwhelmed.

You deserve to acknowledge yourself for being a great help to society as well as yourself and family during this uncertain time in America. Thank you for taking global and national public health recommendations and legislations seriously.

The actions taken by American leaders in closing down sporting events, concerts, conventions and meeting halls, churches, and non-essential businesses has clearly shown that the United States’ number one priority is none of these: economic prosperity, social connectivity, having a good time, being a part of a vibrant church or social club, freedom to do what you want, freedom to travel to wonderful new locations, or even mental health (the rates of obsessive compulsive disorder concerning germs, anxiety, panic, and fear of the future are skyrocketing). The number one priority in America is clearly life and physical health. Indeed, staying alive and physically healthy is of foremost importance.

So, if you are wisely staying at home it may be natural to get frustrated over the fact that you can’t do any of the things listed above that are not the number one priority in the United States. In this season of being homebound, I recommend that you turn that disappointment into appointments that can enhance your mental health and optimize your brain, which really may be even more important than your physical health. The focus you give this will pay dividends in almost every positive way imaginable.

Here are seven things I recommend that you can focus on as you practice healthy social distancing and follow protective shelter in place directions:
1. Quit keeping up with the latest COVID-19 news.
It is exhausting to see the changes hour-by-hour. Because you are already doing your part, there is nothing more you can usefully do by keeping up with the latest statistics, politics, and government edicts. Being riveted on the news is a waste of time at this point so go on to number two.

2. Increase your daily physical exercise to at least one hour.
If possible, exercise up to three hours on some days. Even in California where currently the most stringent statewide shelter in place mandates have been enacted, hiking on trails in the open air is not forbidden. Take advantage of the extra time to yourself by enhancing your physical fitness. If the situation changes, please adjust your exercise activities accordingly.

3. Re-organize your house.
Since you are at home this is the perfect opportunity to start working on making every room enjoyable and clean. Get rid of clutter, catch up on your mail, rearrange your furniture, and consider how to pare down where you have excess (clothing, shoes, tools, furniture, etc.). Setting a timer for 15 minutes at a time can be a great way to get started on spring cleaning.

4. Plant a garden.
Try growing your own food and cultivating the outside of your house by planting flowers and grass being out. Spending time in nature and the garden is invaluable for your mental health. If you live in a northern climate, research when and what you can begin planting, such as lettuce or peas. In warmer climates, seedlings are already available outside of numerous grocery stores. Purchasing seeds online is a smart way to stay within the safe walls of home while still making progress toward a garden space. A garden doesn’t have to be a raised bed or a fenced plot – patio gardens in pots are still therapeutic and rewarding. Bottom line - do what you have always wanted to do but did not have the time for —plant!

5. Get closer to the members in your home.
Science has long made the strong connection between social relationships and improved mental health.[i] I believe that this has never been truer than in this time of social distancing. Your family within the walls of home are imperative to your mental wellbeing currently. I recommend collecting all phones, devices, and screens for at least several hours every day so that there are no distractions with your precious interactions. You are in this experience together - strive to do all you can to foster healthy, loving relationships with the people physically present in your life. If you are alone, it is important to stay connected to those who are your emotional support, so wisely use modern communication to maintain those social ties.

6. Expand your skills.
Instead of pouring yourself into Netflix, social media, and the news, use your time to learn something new online. You can take the online certification course to be an associate director or facilitator for the Depression & Anxiety Recovery Program™. Take Optimize Your Brain™ Online and learn how to perform enjoyable and brain enhancing activities every day. These are just a few of the numerous online educational opportunities available. I urge you to commit to only doing verifiably useful things on screens during this time of social distancing.

7. Prioritize spirituality.
So often in the fast-paced nature of today’s society we do not take the time needed to evaluate the state of our own spirituality. You now have this golden opportunity apart from the hustle and bustle of normal life. I encourage you to spend a thoughtful hour reading the Word of God, praying, and connecting more deeply with God. Whether you choose to take an online Bible study course, read a spiritual book, or spend time evaluating what you believe, this time spent investing in your own spirituality will bolster your mental wellbeing.[ii]

This season will pass, but until public health officials give an all clear, keep doing your part in keeping the community safe. Thank you for your patience and all you are already doing.

About the author:
Neil Nedley, MD, is a practicing physician in internal medicine. He is the founder and medical director of the Nedley Depression and Anxiety Recovery Programs™. Dr. Nedley has presented and published numerous scientific studies in the medical literature and is well known internationally as a public speaker and teacher. He is author of Proof Positive, Depression—the Way Out, The Lost Art of Thinking, and Optimize Your Brain. Dr. Nedley and his wife Erica have four sons. He enjoys hiking in nature with his family, piloting his own aircraft, snow skiing, and listening to sacred and classical music. Nothing is as enjoyable to Dr. Nedley, however, as helping people from the depths of depression and anxiety to the pinnacle of success and fulfillment.

Footnotes:
i] Tough, H., Siegrist, J., & Fekete, C. (2017). Social relationships, mental health and wellbeing in physical disability: a systematic review. BMC public health, 17(1), 414. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-017-4308-6
[ii] Verghese A. (2008). Spirituality and mental health. Indian journal of psychiatry, 50(4), 233–237. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.44742

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