Coronavirus: Managing Mental Health

Thursday, March 19, 2020 - 9:00am

We are all faced with a new virus that is spreading throughout the world. We are healthcare workers: the people likely to be exposed, and also the ones with a duty to continue to show up and care for others. As we all navigate this confusing and changing new normal, one of the questions for healthcare workers becomes - how do I take care of myself? I know I need to stay home when I’m sick, I know I need to wash my hands and use PPE, but how do I manage the ongoing anxiety that uncertainty, risk and constant change bring? 

The Basics: 

Ensure that you are reducing your risk of depression or overwhelming anxiety by using the PLEASE mnemonic: 

  • Physical ILlness – do I have physical pain or an illness that needs to be treated? 
  • Exercise – Am I exercising the recommended amount daily, or at least not changing my normal exercise routine as much as possible?
  • Altering substances – Am I drinking more? Smoking more? Using other drugs? Am I taking all of my medications as prescribed?
  • Sleep – Am I sleeping and resting enough? Am I sticking to my normal sleep schedule?
  • Eating –  Am I eating a healthy, varied diet? Have I been forgetting to eat or eating too much junk food? 

Not eating well, not being on a sleep schedule, not treating illness, not exercising, drinking alcohol, skipping prescribed medications – these decisions are all going to increase your susceptibility to anxiety, depression, irritability, etc. Taking care of your body in these fundamental ways is a crucial step to taking care of your mind. 

Protect Your Mind 

  • Try to stay away from excessive news consumption: Staying tuned in to every update 24/7 is not going to change the worldwide trajectory of the illness, but it is likely to make your anxiety much worse. Stay up to date on CDC recommendations and check 1 trusted news source per day. 
  • Stay Connected with Others: We have a wealth of ways to stay connected in 2020: use video-chat, phone calls, texting. Feeling the strength of our community and our love for other people is a great way to protect our minds from anxiety and depression. 
  • Stick to a Routine: If you are working from home, get up at the same time, get dressed, eat at normal times. Don’t skip exercise or cooking (see above). 
  • Be Gentle with Yourself: Recognize that humans don’t like uncertainty. Our minds want to understand, want to have a plan, want to know what will happen. Protect your mind by not getting down on yourself for feeling anxious. It’s a very normal response. Use self-compassion strategies daily – recognize that you are not alone in being worried, there is nothing wrong or broken with you because you are anxious or stressed. While uncomfortable, anxiety and worry are part of the spectrum of normal human experience. Be kind to yourself in those difficult moments. 

Relax Mind & Body

Feeling stressed at home?

  • Try meditation, guided visualization or progressive muscle relaxation, yoga
  • Try gratitude: Our minds can get stuck in difficult situations and our attention can narrow to only what is going wrong and what we fear. One way to combat that stuck-ness is by widening our perspectives to include more information, such as the positive things that continue to occur. Try thinking of all the things you are grateful for right now (the relationships that sustain you, the sunshine outside, the ways in which we are helping each other in our communities, etc.), or of positive moments that have occurred (the way someone smiled at you or the way someone helped you). Additionally, you can try the “3 good things” exercise. Everyday, write down 3 good things that happened and how you helped make them happen. It can be empowering to bring attention to the ways in which we are helping create positive moments. 
  • Get outside: Fresh air, nature and movement are good for our bodies and minds. While we are all practicing social isolation, we are lucky that in Tucson that doesn’t preclude going outside- mountain biking, trail running or taking the dog on a hike. Or, move your desk outside!

Feeling stressed at work?

  • Try controlled breathing: “Square breathing” (In for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, release for a count of 4, repeat 4 times- 4-4-4-4, hence the name “square breathing”) to calm down that autonomic response to stress. 
  • Get mindful! Our minds can often take us away from the moment. We worry about the future, what could happen next, etc. Getting back to the moment at hand can help calm our minds. One of those ways is to connect with our senses, because our senses only tell us what is happening RIGHT NOW. Not what might happen or has happened. One simple one way to connect with our senses called “5-4-3-2-1 grounding.” That’s 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel (like your feet on the ground), 3 sounds you hear, 2 things you can smell, 1 thing you can taste. 


  • Meditation: Headspace (free to healthcare providers for 2020 - short meditation on letting go of things that are out of your hands)
  • Guided visualization/Muscle relaxation: CBTi coach app (go into tools -> quiet your mind- guided forest walk video) 
  • Yoga: Down Dog (customizable, free sessions until April 1 - yoga for relaxation) 
  • Controlled breathing: Square breathing (see above); Breathe2Relax (free app) 
  • Mindfulness: UCLA mindful (free app) 
  • Self-compassion: Link shares information/background on self-compassion as well self-compassion strategies