Self-care essential for maintaining mental health and well-being during COVID-19

By Emily JenningsJune 8, 2020

Making physical, mental and spiritual health a priority can help those struggling with the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Making physical, mental and spiritual health a priority can help those struggling with the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo Credit: Emily Jennings) VIEW ORIGINAL

WIESBADEN, Germany - Making physical, mental and spiritual health a priority can help those struggling with the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Living through a pandemic is a highly abnormal event, and it can be a roller coaster of emotions and experiences,” said Dr. Jamie Moore, chief of Behavioral Health at the Wiesbaden Army Health Clinic. She noted that although every person’s experience is different,” as a military community, we are uniquely postured to survive and thrive in adverse environments.”

Early on in the crisis, people worldwide rushed out to stock up on toilet paper and other items as their sense of safety was challenged by this new and unfamiliar threat.

“Behaviors like that really come down to a desire to feel prepared and like your needs will be met,” Moore said.

Individuals whose safety, and that of their family members, is a big source of stress may need to focus on what makes them feel safe, she said.

“Structure and predictability increase feelings of safety, so work to create structure in your day-to-day life,” Moore said. “Some people feel safest when they have people around them; other people feel safer when they have an area all to themselves. So that may mean spending more time doing shared activities with the people in your household, asking your partner for more hugs or physical touch, or scheduling virtual daily contact with friends or family.”

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, many people may be experiencing negative emotions such as boredom, loneliness, grief and even helplessness, said Capt. Victoria Cashio, Behavioral Health officer for the 2nd Signal Brigade.

“Throughout our lives we have learned many ways to soothe or subdue these negative emotions,” she said. “Some of these techniques are healthier than others. Some of us look for food, shopping or alcohol to numb. These behaviors are normal in moderation, but performing them in excess may have disastrous consequences that can perpetuate our negative emotions.”

Cashio recommended that instead of externally soothing, people take a moment to notice what’s going on inside their body and express it.

“This may be a good time to try techniques like meditation, journaling, exercise, prayer or talking to someone you trust,” she said. “These activities allow you to take action without losing control. It’s okay to have the occasional cookie binge, but if it is important to you to step away from old habits, take the time to figure out what went wrong and make a plan for next time.”

People can use self-care in multiple aspects of their life to gain resilience in stressful times.

Exercises, sunlight and breathing techniques are three ways to improve physical health that also benefit mental health, said Jason Mohilla, U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Army Substance Abuse Program specialist.

People who don’t normally exercise can start with stretching, which goes a long way, he said. He also noted that Vitamin D is a major factor in keeping a healthy chemical balance. He recommended looking online for videos for stretching and breathing exercises.

“Controlled breathing can help clear the mind, reduce heartrate and lower blood pressure,” Mohilla said.

Exercise also can release agitation and things like yoga, meditation and breathing exercise can be helpful, Moore said.

“There is a reason you are seeing so many recommendations and resources for yoga and mindfulness right now - we know that these things calm the physiological reaction that happens during stress.”

Mental health is interconnected with physical and spiritual health, and a person’s physical health and mental condition can determine how stress affects them physically, emotionally and relationally, said Dr. John Kaiser, USAG Wiesbaden Employee Assistance Program coordinator.

Kaiser uses a 3 + 4 formula to explain the daily things individuals should do for stress management and whole person health:

1. SLEEP – Not sleeping well can cause things such as cognitive impairment and cardiovascular issues. “If you are not getting at least seven hours, you probably need to talk with your physician,” Kaiser said.

2. EXERCISE – Many people working from home may not be getting up and about as much. Getting appropriate physical fitness every day is always important but especially now with teleworking, Kaiser said.

3. NUTRITION – It’s important to eat properly and watch alcohol consumption. “We do know that alcohol affects our sleep,” Kaiser said. People who have problems with drinking may be using alcohol to self-medicate, but we do know that rather than helping, it actually creates more problems, he added.

4. WHOLE HEALTH – The fourth part of the 3 + 4 formula involves the four basic components of health coming together to support the whole person: physical, emotional, spiritual and relational health. This is known as holistic or whole person health.

“The theory behind it is, if you are negatively affected traumatically in one area of your life, you use the strength that you have in those other areas of your life to bring to bear against those things that are challenging you,” Kaiser said. “So that’s how you bring balance and restore yourself from those things that are affecting you.”