People with various mental health issues have a hard row to hoe during the coronavirus pandemic. Many of the things they rely on to manage their lives have been altered. Fears of contamination have closed many in-person support groups, and some struggle to connect with therapists and social workers and obtain medication refills.
You might feel more restless than ever if you have ADD or ADHD, due to all the anxiety and uncertainty. So what can you do to burn off excess energy and get your mind and behaviour back under control? Here are 10 tips for managing your condition during the pandemic.
Knowledge genuinely is power—use any additional time you have to learn as much as possible about your condition. One good starting point, especially for Americans, is the National Resource Center on ADHD (NRC). It’s an evidence-based clearinghouse that’s funded through a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Center for Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD).
When you learn how to identify triggers, you can then take decisive action to mitigate the negative behaviours that throw you into a downward spiral. If you recognize that a news snippet has elevated your blood pressure and anxiety level, you can employ a healthy coping strategy like taking a walk to regain a calmer perspective.
Evaluate your treatment resources
Did your regular therapy group close their doors temporarily? If so, you might feel lost, especially if your support group has also disbanded for the moment. You need to get proactive and find alternative resources that will give you the care you need.
If you fear visiting your regular pharmacy for your medications, can you sign up with a home delivery service? Can you find online support group meetings for your disorder? Now that the U.S. government has eased restrictions on telehealth, can you meet with your therapist virtually?
Use a planner
If you lost your job or found yourself with reduced hours because of the pandemic, you might feel even more stir-crazy than ever. It’s not enough to have positive intentions of starting healthy habits—you need a plan to guide your brain on course.
This advice is crucial during a time when people are encouraged to stay inside more and try to isolate as much as possible. It’s easy to fall into unhealthy habits to ease boredom if you don’t have healthier replacements on your slate.
Write down everything you want to do, as well as what you need to do—for instance, have you been dreaming of learning French? Pencil in 30 minutes daily to practice saying “parlez-vous.”
Exercise every day
Still have that planner handy? Perfect! Pencil in 30 minutes of exercise for each day of the week. Physical activity will help you control the physiological processes that lead to increased feelings of stress and restlessness.
When you feel stressed, your body produces a flood of the hormone cortisol. While this is helpful in short, occasional doses, the substance can wreak havoc on your health over the long term. Left unattended, it can take a considerable time for your system to fall back into balance.
The best news of all? You don’t have to grind it hard to reap the benefits—high-intensity exercise can actually increase the levels of cortisol in your bloodstream. However, low-intensity workouts, such as walking, have resulted in a reduction of the circulating levels of this hormone. Yoga, dance and old-fashioned walking should soothe your anxious nerves.
Staring at the same four walls hour after hour, day after day can make you feel like a prisoner who’s committed no crime. It’s a gorgeous time of the year in most parts of North America, and fresh air harbours fewer pathogens (on average) than the stuff lingering indoors. Poor upkeep of HVAC and ventilation systems can make stores and office buildings breeding grounds for pathogens.
Besides allowing you to bust away boredom in a less germ-filled way, going outside offers substantial mental health benefits. If you have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the pandemic could even have you experiencing symptoms in June. That’s because a lack of vitamin D can lead to depressive symptoms. If you’ve felt melancholy lately, perhaps you need to soak up the sun, as in the well-known Sheryl Crow tune.
Connect with others
Are you riding out the storm solo? If you’re isolated in your pad with no one but Henry the goldfish for company, shelter-in-place orders can deprive you of necessary social interaction. The outings you miss with friends and family aren’t fluff—they’re vital to your mental health.
Since many regions have lifted restrictions, you can plan a visit if you feel healthy and safe. If not, though, set up regular video chats with distant loved ones. Phone calls work, too, but it’s much more comforting to see a smiling, familiar face.
Explore unique interests
Have you always wanted to learn how to knit a hat? Maybe you want to play a wicked dual piano like Tori Amos? Whatever your unique interest is, indulge it during this time, if possible. Doing so will distract your mind from racing thoughts of when and how this pandemic will end. If you’re short on cash, you can search for how-to videos on YouTube for free.
Eat healthy food
If you aren’t getting enough of certain nutrients, this can significantly impact your mood and behaviour. A strong association exists between magnesium levels and depression. In one study, participants who took the mineral for six weeks showed a six-point improvement in depressive symptoms.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also helpful when it comes to mood regulation. While many studies on omega-3s have focused on participants who also took an antidepressant with inadequate effects, they do suggest that supplementation works effectively. To get more omega-3s into your body, you can find over-the-counter pills or up your intake of fatty fish. If you follow a vegan lifestyle, chia seeds are also a useful source.
Mindfulness helps halt the flood of racing thoughts that can lead to irrational behaviors. It’s free, and you can practice anywhere that you have a few quiet moments.
Begin by getting comfortable and drawing awareness to your breath. Try to focus solely on your inhalations and exhales, but when thoughts drift in—as they will!—acknowledge them non-judgmentally and set them aside for later.
Do a body scan by drawing your awareness to your toes. Slowly work your way up your body, pausing to breathe into any tight or tense areas. If you have a chronic pain condition, this exercise can help you ease the ache without medication.
Go easy on yourself
Finally, remember, these are unprecedented times. You have a disorder, but that isn’t who you are. Everyone reacts a bit chaotically to the uncertainty. Instead of beating yourself up if you stress-eat a giant hunk of chocolate cake, praise yourself for all the other things you did well that day, like not acting impulsively in a way that endangers others. Permit yourself to be a human being—nobody is perfect.
Follow these tips to emerge healthier than ever
It’s challenging to manage ADD or ADHD on a calm day. When the world flies into chaos, it becomes even more of a challenge. If you follow at least a few of the tips above, though, you can meet your life head-on and emerge from COVID-19 healthier than ever.
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