Stress and anxiety go hand-in-hand with the bad news about COVID-19 from around the world. Hearing constant reports about the illness and death caused by coronavirus can be hard to take. At a news conference today, the World Health Organization shared general tips for self-care and discussed why the mental health needs of the old and the young deserve special attention.
For starters, everyone needs to look after one's own basic needs to stay mentally healthy in a stressful time.
"We can feel mentally better if we are as physically well as possible," Aiysha Malik, a psychologist with the World Health Organization, told the news conference.
Malik's tips for self-care include:
- Eat healthy foods
- Stay physically active
- Get regular sleep and rest
- Create a sense of structure and routine in daily life
- Connect socially with friends and family, while maintaining physical distance
"We're all actually experts in our own well-being," she said. "So what people have done before in the past can help them now." Malik recommended practicing hobbies that have brought you joy in the past, or relaxation techniques that have worked for you before.
Malik also called smoking and drinking "unhelpful coping strategies" and suggested keeping them to a minimum, as well as limiting exposure to news content that you may find distressing.
The anxiety many people are feeling about COVID-19 can be magnified in those who are most vulnerable to it. Adults over 60 and those with underlying conditions are constantly hearing that they are at higher risk of getting dangerously sick from the coronavirus.
"To be told that you're very vulnerable can be extremely frightening and very fear-inducing," Malik said, adding that older adults may be especially prone to feeling anxious, stressed out, isolated and angry right now. She advised older adults to practice self-care and noted that now, more than ever, mental health and social services should be made available to them.
For friends and family of somebody older, it's critical, "that the elderly people know that they are thought of, that they are loved, cared about," said Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. He recommended initiating video chats, telephone calls, and sending postcards and letters.
Children are also experiencing major disruptions in their lives — 87 percent of the world's students are affected by school closures, according to the UN.
Kids are likely facing many of the same fears and anxieties as adults, such as "fear of dying, fear of their relatives dying, or fear of what it means to receive medical treatment," Malik said.
For those taking care of children, Malik said that simple strategies can go a long way. She recommended giving young people the love and attention they need to resolve their fears, explaining the situation honestly in a way they understand and modeling healthy responses.