Mental health

DO psychiatrists share pandemic mental health ‘life hacks’

As COVID-19 stretches into 2021, maintaining mental and physical health continues to be challenging yet vitally important.

Last summer, Eddie Liu, MD, the CEO and co-founder of Uplift, collaborated with the University of North Carolina School of Medicine to release Pandemic Life Hacks: a document compiling resources for health, happiness and productivity during the pandemic. (Please note that some links in the document aren’t working at this time, but all resources listed are easily found on Google).

As COVID-19 stretches into 2021, maintaining mental and physical health continues to be challenging yet vitally important. Below, two DO psychiatrists, Katherine Pannel, DO, and Ron Holt, DO, provide commentary on Dr. Liu’s Pandemic Life Hacks and share their own related tips and links. Additional mental health resources for physicians and medical students are available on the AOA’s Physician Wellness page.

If you’ve found anything particularly helpful during the pandemic, please share it in the comments. 

Katherine Pannel, DO

On mental health apps: 

There are many great apps for mental health nowadays, but my favorite from the Pandemic Life Hacks list is Headspace. It only takes a few minutes a day and provides meditation, videos and articles all centered on maintaining mental health. I have encouraged many of my patients to give it a try and most have really enjoyed using it.

I was hesitant at first when I saw Youper here because it uses artificial intelligence, but I was pleasantly surprised. You begin by completing a mental health checkup which personalizes it to you, and then it acts as an online therapist you can text. Wysa and Woebots are other options.

I love that Just Dance Now made the list. Essentially, you copy the moves of a dancer on the screen and score points based on how well you follow the dancer. What a fun way to sneak in exercise without feeling like you are in an exercise class!

Schedules and organization are important for kids. For homeschooling parents, Khan Academy is a great resource to help navigate kids and school that I’d never heard of until I read this. It’s a nonprofit organization that helps students, parents, and teachers navigate virtual learning.

Wellness advice and resources:

Anxiety is centered around lack of control and uncertainty, and the pandemic has been unpredictable and ever-changing, thus increasing anxiety. Focus on things that you can control by following an organized schedule. This gives you a sense of structure and control and reduces anxiety.

I’ve said since the beginning of COVID-19 that limiting time on social media and watching the news is essential to good mental health. A constant barrage of negative news can increase anxiety. I suggest getting your news in the morning, checking social media, then getting off. Reading the news at night can cause anxiety and affect sleep.

Mental health and physical health go hand in hand, each affecting the other. Obe Fitness is a great option for home workouts. You can livestream classes or watch them on-demand at every fitness level. In live classes, you can make new friends and form a support system which is so crucial for good mental health. I think it’s worth the cost.

Mood diaries are a great way to track your mood to see what affects it, what triggers a negative mood, and what helps. It’s also good to have when visiting a therapist and/or psychiatrist so you can remember certain things, and they can better form or modify your treatment plan. This article gives two examples, but they’re not free. You can also track your mood using pen and paper.

If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or having suicidal thoughts, please reach out. There is help. The Physician Support Line is a confidential national hotline specifically for physicians that offers free counseling. The number is (888) 409-0141.

Ron Holt, DO

Wellness advice and resources:

I put together a YouTube video series that gives students practical steps on dealing with COVID-19 as they take classes remotely. There is a good amount of information for students from high school through medical school.

I also contributed to an article for San Francisco State University on tips on how to keep negativity at bay during COVID-19. Some key points include:

  • Stay socially connected. Technology makes it possible for us to call loved ones, join video chats with friends or play online video games with family members. The National Alliance on Mental Illness of California shares more suggestions here.
  • Develop a routine. Giving life a familiar and comfortable rhythm creates a sense of certainty during a time that is unpredictable. Since there are many things about the pandemic we can’t control, we need to shift our focus to the things we can control. That includes pursuing activities we loved before the pandemic while still adhering to shelter-in-place orders.
  • Reframe your thoughts. It’s easy to focus on the many downsides of our current pandemic reality, but shifting your perspective to focus on something positive can make a big difference. For example, rather than thinking about how upset you are about sheltering in place, think about how fortunate you are to be able to protect yourself and others from possible COVID-19 exposure.

Healthy stress relief:

For health care professionals and medical students on the frontlines battling COVID-19, I created a free downloadable coloring book for healers in 2018 that is full of affirmations, inspiring quotes and mandalas to help reduce stress and calm nerves. It is also available in a hard copy format on Amazon.

Related reading:

COVID-19 updates: DO starts volunteer mental health support line for fellow physicians

Combat stress, loneliness and stiff muscles with these virtual wellness sessions

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