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COVID-19 has disrupted all of our lives. Some of us are working from home. Others can’t work. Life seems to be put on hold as we social distance. Changes like these can result in discomfort, grief and frustration. As our daily routines shift, how do we remain emotionally well while we’re separated from friends, family and co-workers?

Emotional wellness and COVID-19

Samia Hasan, MD

Samia Hasan, MD, is the director of mental health services for IU School of Medicine.

We’re all likely experiencing some emotional discomfort (or worse!) given the spread of COVID-19 and the disruption it has caused in our lives. Grief at missing out on experiences, frustration, uncertainty—all are normal reactions at this time. The situation is new and unpredictable. So how do we stay emotionally well during these times while we’re separated from friends and our colleagues?

Avoid COVID-19 overload. Limit the time you spend taking in COVID-19 news; it can be overwhelming. Maybe check in once or twice a day.

Rely on accurate sources of news. Follow the prevention tips and recommendations given by medical professionals and governmental authorities.

Acknowledge reactions. Allow yourself time to reflect on what you are feeling and how you may be reacting to fears and uncertainties.

Take good care of your body.

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule.
  • Work towards maintaining good nutrition and regular meals.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • Limit caffeine intake.
  • Get some exercise!
  • Spend some time outside, especially in nature.
  • Practice deep breathing, relaxation, yoga, Qigong. Not sure how to do these? YouTube!
  • Try taking up an activity that requires use of your body and mind: knitting, art, playing an instrument, etc.

Maintain your normal day-to-day activities and keep connected.

  • Resist withdrawing and isolating yourself.
  • Maintaining social networks can foster a sense of normality and provide valuable outlets for sharing feelings and relieving stress.
  • Feel free to share useful information you find on governmental websites with your friends and family. It will help them deal with their own concerns.
  • Attempt to create structure in your day by: scheduling a normal bedtime and wakeup time; structuring your time with hobbies, homework, reading, etc.; scheduling regular phone or video contact with friends and family.

Consider keeping a journal about what this experience is like for you. But be sure to end your daily entry with three good things about the day, however small, to help keep your spirits up.

Maintain perspective. While this is a HUGE event for all of us, remind yourself of what’s good in your life and what’s most important for you: health, friends, family, work, spirituality.

Spend time with your four-legged friends (or other pet). Time with your pets can make a tough day a lot easier.

Take the focus off yourself: do something kind for someone else.

Practice calming rituals. Stay grounded in the present moment, which can help you maintain an internal sense of stability and balance when outside events feel threatening.

Avoid stigmatizing or generalizing. Keep in mind the kindness and empathy with which we strive to treat one another at all times as we address this challenge together. Be aware if your behavior or attitudes change towards others from another country, and avoid stigmatizing anyone who is sick as potentially having COVID-19. Often when there is uncertainty, our thoughts can become less compassionate and based more in fear.

Recognizing distress: A self-checklist

  • Numbness, disbelief, increased worry, fear, or feelings of being overwhelmed
  • Depressive symptoms that persist and/or intensify
  • Inability to focus or concentrate accompanied by decreased academic or work performance or performance of other daily activities
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Excessive crying
  • Isolating or withdrawing from others, fear of going into public situations
  • Unhealthy coping (e.g., increased alcohol or drug use, engaging in risky or impulsive behaviors)
  • A feeling of hopelessness and/or a paralyzing fear about the future
  • Sudden anger or irritability, or noticeable changes in personality

Seek supports & use resources. It’s not unusual to experience some—or even several—of the types of distress listed above during times of uncertainly and stress. If you notice these signs in yourself, reach out to family and friends for support, and engage in your usual heathy coping strategies (e.g. exercising in moderation; eating well; getting adequate sleep; practicing yoga, meditation, or some other mindfulness activity; taking time for yourself; engage in a hobby or other fun activity, etc.). If your distress continues or gets to the point that you are having difficulty managing your day-to-day activities, then seek professional help.

For IU School of Medicine trainees:

  • For telehealth services (counseling and psychiatric services), contact the Department of Mental Health Services at or 317-278-2383.
  • For urgent situations: call our crisis line at 317-278-HELP (4357) to reach a licensed mental health counselor 24/7. Our team is on backup call for this line.

For IU employees, there are resources to help cope with the emotional impact of COVID-19.

  • Call the SupportLinc Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at 888-881-5462. This service is available 24/7 to benefits-eligible employees and family members. The program offers no-cost, short-term counseling to help cope with these types of events.
  • Employees enrolled in an IU-sponsored Anthem medical plan can schedule time to speak with a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist from the privacy of their home through LiveHealth Online, the plan’s telemedicine option.
  • A list of counseling resources, including national, statewide and campus-specific resources, is available at the Healthy IU website.
  • For other resources in the community, contact 211.
  • Crisis numbers: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or the crisis text line: 741741 

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The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
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