This “action plan” is meant to give you some science-based education about what helps keep people healthy in stressful times, and to give you space to think about what your own personal goals and available resources are. What are some things you could do to take care of yourself during this difficult time?

PREVENTIONHappy

Set goals for yourself. Focus on what you can do during this time. Make a schedule for yourself, and plan to:

Be kind to yourself. It is normal to feel stressed, anxious or sad, and it can also be normal to feel joy and a whole range of other emotions, in the face of a situation like this pandemic. Sometimes you will not be able to do everything you set out to do and that’s okay. Accept where you are and what you have been able to accomplish.

What can I tell myself when I need encouragement?

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Eat regular healthy meals when possible. We may be relying more on groceries these days rather than take-out, which gives you an opportunity to be intentional about what you are putting into your body. Choose foods that are full of nutrients and that you enjoy eating. If you hate broccoli, that’s ok! Find vegetables and fruits and protein and healthy fat sources that you do like. As you find yourself eating more food at home, preparing big batches of food that don’t require too much daily effort can help you keep up regular healthy eating. Remember that healthy food intake is good for healthy immune system functioning.

Some healthy foods that I can eat:

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Move every day. The gym may be off-limits, but you can still go for a walk outside, do jumping jacks in your bedroom, watch free online exercise classes online, or move your furniture around. Physical exercise is great for positive mood and healthy immune system functioning.

Here are 3 ways I can stay active:

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Keep a routine. Go to bed and wake up around the same time every day. Our normal routine may have been disrupted, but a consistent sleep schedule can help your sleep quality, which can support your physical and mental health.

I plan to go to sleep at _________PM and wake up at _________AM.

Reach out to family, friends, and colleagues. COVID-19 is a respiratory infection, it is not a computer virus! So, there’s no need to socially distance when it comes to social media. You can schedule a virtual get-together over platforms like Zoom or Skype, or even watch a movie with friends. Try not to give in to social anxiety that might be leading you to avoid social contact right now. There are many people who are bored and looking for something interesting to do.

Who do I want to stay in touch with? 

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Do activities you enjoy. Take the opportunity to make the most of your increased time at home. Read, knit, listen to music, play an instrument, take a warm bath, or revisit an old hobby. Give yourself permission to spend time on things you enjoy.

Hobbies I want to spend time on:

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Select goals that matter. Take the opportunity to do something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t had the time for. Maybe that’s drawing, coloring, or painting, getting in better shape by walking or jogging, updating the backyard and gardening, learning a new skill, fixing the car or updating the house, singing, or watching/reading something you’ve been putting off. There are loads of worthwhile activities that will leave you stronger and wiser after this is all over.

Personal goals I want to spend time on:

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Limit time spent checking news and social media. Stay informed, but also know that constant exposure to COVID-19 news may not be helpful. Schedule a time to check social media and/or news outlets, rather than checking continuously throughout the day. When you do check into news, take care to connect with high-quality content from our nation’s experts.

When will I check news or social media? 

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REFRAMING UNHELPFUL THOUGHTS

Based on decades of research, we know that thoughts have a strong influence on how we feel. Challenging irrational or unhelpful thoughts can help change those emotions.

CBT

Worry is natural during these times, but it’s important to be reasonable about our true level of risk. Here are a few thoughts that might be inaccurate and can lead to unnecessary worry:

  1. I am going to die.
  2. My family members will die.
  3. I have lost my economic future.
  4. My immune system is not strong enough to weather this.
  5. There is nothing I can do to protect myself and those I love in this pandemic.
  6. My daughter is too reckless, and will contract the illness and die.
  7. I work as a healthcare worker, and will die, regardless of the safety measures I put in place.

 

Think of a worrisome thought about the COVID-19 pandemic that’s been with you during this time, and use the following questions to challenge it:

My thought:

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  • What evidence goes against this thought?woman
  • Am I only thinking about the negative?
    • Example: I am only watching negative news, but missing out on the positive ones (e.g., benefits of quarantine on nature).
  • Am I falling into catastrophic thinking (i.e., thinking the worst)?
    • Example: Yes, I may have been exposed, but I have been fine for the past seven days and been keeping myself safe since.
  • Am I failing to see the positive?
    • Example: Actually, yes, I’m fairly safe, and my family is there to help me during this difficult economic time.
  • Are my thoughts based on feelings, rather than facts?
    • Example: Sometimes, yes. I do notice that when I’m distressed, I see the true risk of infection less accurately. 
  • In my relationships, am I reading other people’s minds and jumping to conclusions?
    • Example: I do this sometimes, like the other day when I might have been unfair about thinking my spouse doesn’t appreciate the importance of safety precautions.
  • Am I exaggerating? Is it really so bad, or am I only seeing things in black and white?
    • Example: Maybe so. Even if I get COVID-19, chances of recovery are in my favor.
  • Am I drawing conclusions without knowing all the facts?
    • Example: Maybe. I’m assuming that I will definitely be infected, even though I’m taking the recommended precautions and I’m currently in an area with lower confirmed cases.
  • What are some other, helpful thoughts I could be thinking about?
    • Example: I actually do have some power in this situation, like I have some resources for keeping myself safe and healthy. I know what to do. 

 

WHEN THINGS GET HARDER

Know the warning signs. Our response to stress can look different for different people. Here are some common warning signs that your mental health may need attention:

PHYSICAL: Headaches; neck tension; GI/gastrointestinal problems; difficulty sleeping; lower (or greater) appetite; lower energy

PSYCHOLOGICAL/EMOTIONAL: Virus-related worries and insecurity; feelings of being overwhelmed by events, powerlessness; self-verbalization that does not always reflect reality; negative interpretation of things or daily events; feelings of discouragement, insecurity, sadness, anger, etc.

BEHAVIORAL: Difficulty concentrating; irritability or aggression; crying; withdrawal; difficulty making decisions; increased use of alcohol, drugs, and/or medication

What can you do if you notice these or other signs of emotional distress?

Here are 3 (or more) things that I can do to cope even if I am by myself (e.g., write in a journal, move my body to some music, try meditation or breathing exercises):

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Here are people I can reach out to for socializing (list with contact info):

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Here are people I can reach out to for support, to talk about how I’m feeling (list with contact info):

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WHEN I NEED MORE SUPPORT

Professional, community-based, and governmental support can be helpful for many people. Go to Section IV: Resources for resources related to mental, physical, and financial health.