Staying healthy during the coronavirus pandemic is about more than just social distancing. Of course, that is vital. However, we can’t neglect our overall physical and mental health. Especially since this is not the time to have a weakened immune system. So, let’s talk tips for mental health in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have a number of ideas for staying healthy while maintaining social distancing and dealing with the concerns we are likely feeling.

Physical Distancing Does Not Have to Mean Social Isolation

We know social isolation can be extremely detrimental to health. As a matter of fact, studies have shown lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. So, clearly the challenges of being isolated and feeling disconnected are serious. Many of us are managing to maintain those connections despite distancing with the help of technology. But, our senior population faces a digital divide that can make this difficult. It’s easy to get frustrated with Mom or Dad for running errands when they should be staying safe at home, but do we really understand their reasons?

So, what can you do?

  1. Make regular phone calls to elder relatives and friends. Set aside some time when you can talk and listen.
  2. Set your elderly relatives up with the technology to connect easily. We have been doing this with clients, whether getting an Amazon Alexa Show set up in their home or demonstrating Facetime on their iPad. Keep it simple. Write up basic step-by-step instructions if need be. You can also enlist the help of caregivers.
  3. Share ways they can connect. Remember, older relatives are not likely to tap into the opportunities like online gaming, social media, and video meetings that you may feel are keeping you connected. But, with a little help, they can. For example, here are a few ideas for online games. Many of the same games and activities you’re enjoying could be ideal for your loved ones, but don’t assume they will find them. You may need to show them or access them together at first.

Staying Active

We know staying active can be a challenge when you’re not going out. The gym and senior center are closed. Normal daily activities probably aren’t (and shouldn’t be) happening anymore. Additionally, the stress or sadness may be causing you to feel unmotivated. And, that is okay. But, a little physical activity (along with the mental and social stimulation already discussed), can make you feel a lot better.

Mental Health and COVID-19: Feeling Discouraged and Unmotivated?

First, if you are feeling discouraged, sad, anxious, or overwhelmed, you can connect with help. Our team is always here, if you need to talk. We’re offering free consultations via phone or video call. You can look into online counseling services like Better Help and TalkSpace. Or, talk to your local provider as many will offer telephone/telehealth options. Some days you may just not feel up to doing much or you may just need to chat with a friend and have a good cry. If you are talking with older loved ones, remember they may not always feel as open to sharing these feelings. They may not express that they feel “depressed” or “anxious”. More often, they will complain about physical symptoms, lack of sleep, or seem irritable or maybe even forgetful. We shared more about this and some tips in our article “Combatting Depression in the Elderly”.

What are some easy ways to be active at home?

  1. Take a walk outside. Just maintain the proper distance from others. The fresh air and sunshine can do wonders. If your mobility is limited, even a short walk to the end of the driveway several times per day can help.
  2. Do some gardening, if you are able. Take it easy, but getting outside in nature can be a great way to be active and improve your mental health. If you have a caregiver who visits, you can do this or take a walk together.
  3. Find tons of great at-home workouts on Youtube. Just Google “Youtube workouts for seniors” or something similar and you will find a lot of options. Some TV stations show senior-friendly workouts, yoga, and other fitness shows too.
  4. Do little projects around the house. Keeping up with the household chores can be a workout, for sure! Be careful and stay safe. But, do what you can and consider finding a small project each day.

*Consult your medical provider about any new fitness routine you plan to start. Be cautious about home safety and fall risks. This is not the time to have to go to the hospital! But, activity will also help keep you strong and flexible, preventing accidents and health issues.

The Importance of Routine and Activity for Mental Health During COVID-19

Unfortunately, your normal routine may be completely upended at the moment. Perhaps you normally do shopping and errands each day, have a regular lunch group, play bridge, and go to an exercise class twice/week. Now, you find every day feels the same. And, perhaps you find yourself watching a lot of TV and sleeping more (or at odd hours).

Try to maintain a routine to your days. Eat meals at set times. Try to keep to your usual sleep schedule as much as possible. This might mean creating a new routine and finding new activities. Some of the ideas above can help. You can also find some other activity ideas to do while staying at home during coronavirus in our recent post. At the same time, it’s okay to give yourself a break. Some days you just might not feel up to “being productive”. But, here’s a good sample that you can adjust to your preferred sleeping and meal times, when you like to take a bath, etc.:

6:45: wake up, do some light stretching, make your bed and change out of your pajamas

7:30: eat a healthy breakfast and read the newspaper or a book

8:30: take a walk around the block

9:30: phone calls with friends

10:30: play some games–crossword puzzles, word games, online games

12:00: eat a healthy lunch (maybe outside if it’s nice!)

1:00-3:00: watch a movie or some TV shows, take an online class, or do some chores

3:00: do an online workout–tai chi, stretching, etc.

4:00: do a household project, take a bath

6:00: eat dinner (maybe while reading a book or listening to some movies or podcasts)

7:00: Facetime or calls with family members

8:00-10:00: watch TV or read

10:30: go to bed

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