8 Toxic COVID Habits Destroying Your Mental Health
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I would make an educated guess that not many people are thriving right now. In fact, I’d assume that many of us are in a pretty dark place. With the U.S. government’s response to the pandemic basically equating to the shrug emoji, the gloomy economy, and the thousands of lives lost due to COVID-19, I don’t think we’re really living our best lives. And that’s to be expected.
It’s an insane time right now, and there’s no ‘correct’ way to deal with it.
However, there are ways in which you might be making the situation worse for yourself. Here are some of the self-sabotaging habits you may have formed during the pandemic and why you should try working on reversing them.
1. Feeling ashamed of not being productive “enough.”
This is the most ubiquitous topic I’ve seen discussed since quarantine started. On LinkedIn and Twitter, I see countless posts about using this time to work on that project you always wanted to do but never had time, write that novel, start your own business, etc. And I also see posts from people on the opposite side of the spectrum explaining why it’s okay if you feel like you need to take things slower right now, that coping and surviving should take priority over your hustle.
Neither camp is wrong — if you do feel up for renovating your home or expanding your business, that’s amazing. If you need to pause and take care of yourself, that’s also good. It’s an insane time right now, and there’s no “correct” way to deal with it. The most important thing is that you’re making sure you’re putting your mental health first, and how you do that is up to you (not social media). Try not to be so hard on yourself, either way.
2. Refreshing your newsfeed every 10 minutes
It’s important to keep up with the news, especially since the updates around COVID-19 change often, with city mayors and state governors mandating new rules and regulations with little notice. I downloaded the Citizen app, which is normally for crime alerts in the neighborhood, but it’s expanded its “offerings” to include any COVID-19-related announcements, so I’ll get a notification if restaurants have closed down or opened back up again, for instance.
And yes, it’s good to know about the increase of cases, advancements around a vaccine (fingers crossed), best ways to be protecting ourselves (as long as that information is coming from experts, like scientists and doctors), along with our government’s response to these updates (or lack thereof). But you don’t need to keep checking the news more than a couple times a day. I found myself doing this, which only made me feel more anxious and scared — not more knowledgeable. Stop yourself from scrolling so that you don’t end up in a dark place because that’s pretty easy to do these days. Also: Check your sources, make sure your news is coming from a reliable place, and give yourself time to pause and absorb before reading more.
3. Drinking more than you normally would
I am totally not against making yourself a cocktail mid-day or enjoying a couple of glasses of wine at night. If having a few drinks doesn’t interfere with your life and responsibilities, go for it. But if you find yourself drinking so much that you wake up feeling constantly hungover, or having so many drinks that you’re unable to do your job or interact with others, then you might be using alcohol as a form of escapism — which is not uncommon now.
I’m not a doctor, and I don’t know your situation, but if you feel like you’re maybe overdoing it with the liquor, then it’s time to figure out why, first of all. And second, safely wean off of the habit (if it’s become a habit). There are a lot of resources out there to help, like Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and an online-version of Alcoholic Anonymous. You can also look into online therapy, like BetterHelp or Talkspace to help get to the root of the problem. In a lot of cases, COVID-19 didn’t just manifest these issues – it exacerbated them, so it makes sense that you’d need more resources now than ever.
4. Isolating yourself completely
It’s not advisable to physically hang out with friends right now. And if we do, it definitely won’t feel like the ye olde days of getting brunch or drinks and being able to do things like hug (ugh, I’m not a hugger, but I do miss them). However, that doesn’t mean you should totally isolate yourself from human contact. It’s important to still communicate with your friends through text, phone calls, or video calls — especially if you’re feeling down and truly do need the support. I know personally that it’s easy to fall into an isolation spiral.
Once you go a few days without speaking to anyone, you’ll go a week, and then two, and then it’ll be harder to crawl back out for air. For whatever reason you feel like you need to detach yourself from your personal relationships (maybe you’re ashamed of getting laid off, or your mental health issues have worsened), you should still try to make time to talk to people — family included. It might help more than you know.
5. Throwing structure completely out the window
It’s sooo easy to do away with structure now. Regardless of whether you’ve lost your job or have more freedom to organize your day however you please because of your new WFH situation (if you’re lucky enough to get to work from home), you might say “fuck it” to routine and binge-watch shows until 3 AM. and wake up past noon, not knowing what day or year it is. And it might feel good for a while, like you’re fifteen and on summer break from school. Ultimately though, it’s better for your mental health to give yourself structure, even if it’s a little more fluid now (which is to be expected, especially if you have kids to take care of and have now become a de facto teacher). Get up at a reasonable time in the morning, do your work (or look for jobs, work on your resume, network, etc.), make lunch and dinner (please don’t forget to feed yourself!), and go to sleep at a normal-ish time.
6. Not moving at all
I’m not telling you to start training for a marathon, because that would be hypocritical and borderline psychotic. But do try to avoid staying in one place all day long — not just for your physical health, but for your mental health, too. Take a 30-minute walk, let yourself really breathe, and connect to your surroundings. Or, look up a free yoga routine on YouTube if that’s more your speed. I find my negative feelings become way more intensified if I’ve just been glued to my bed or couch for days, but the fog immediately lifts once I take my dog on a walk.
Just because we’re in the middle of a pandemic doesn’t mean you’re trapped inside your house or can’t be active. You can go outside and move your limbs (just make sure to do it safely and while wearing a mask if there’s a possibility you’ll be around other people). If you live somewhere that makes it hard for you to take a walk, google free exercise apps and workout routines that don’t require too many accessories.
7. Engaging with the comments
Fighting with the anti-maskers (or even just bigoted, terrible people who voted for a ghastly human being) is literally going to get you nowhere except maybe closer to getting an anger-induced aneurism. (I’m kidding, I don’t think that can actually happen.) Don’t waste your time with negative, toxic people. They’re most likely posting inflammatory garbage, hoping someone like you will take the bait and give them something to do. Do. Not. Engage. Go read a book instead. You will most likely never, ever change anyone’s mind — and just be at peace with that.
8. Panic retail shopping
If shopping is your preferred way of de-stressing (and you’re in a financially stable place to do so), go for it. Buy yourself a new wallet, a cute pair of pajamas, a mask embroidered with tiny pineapples on it — whatever! But set a limit for yourself. Don’t retail blackout and find out later that you spent $1,200 on a pair of heels you most likely won’t wear for quite some time. And speaking of which: Aside from setting a limit for yourself, try to shop with intention. Do you really need a new lipstick right now? You’re most likely going to be wearing a mask around other people. How about a cool new eyeliner that really makes your mask pop? (I’m just kidding! But also you do you do!) Do you really need a cocktail dress when your state has reversed its reopening plan? Retail therapy is okay, but always do it smartly.
Gina Vaynshteyn is an editor and writer who lives in LA. You can find more of her words on Refinery29, Apartment Therapy, HelloGiggles, Distractify, and others. If you wanna, you can follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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