Expert offers tips on caring for mental health during coronavirus pandemic
While the focus during the coronavirus pandemic is on physical health, experts say our mental health should also be a top priority.
The fears surrounding each cough, sneeze or bout of nausea during the COVID-19 outbreak has left much of the world focused on the physical worries that accompany the new coronavirus. However, experts are fearing that too many are neglecting the importance of mental health during this troubling and expanding crisis.
The importance of focusing on mental health is not just to make the time spent indoors during stay-at-home restrictions easier, but also for the direct role mental health has on physical health.
Dr. Erik Fisher, a licensed psychologist, told AccuWeather’s Monica Danielle that the exposure to sunlight, or lack thereof, can play a key role in how an individual’s mood is regulated.
“The sun is often necessary to help us regulate mood because when the sun hits our skin it helps our skin manufacture vitamin D which is responsible for our mood. It also affects or impacts our immune systems,” Fisher said. “So we really want to make sure we’re getting enough sun or sunlight," she continued, adding that people also "have to take into consideration the idea of eating foods that might be higher in vitamin D."
Liensy Fernandez Trujillo exercises wearing a mask as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus, at a sports park in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 23, 2020. The vast majority of people recover from the COVID-19 disease. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Vitamin D, which can be found in foods such fatty fishes like salmon, herring or tuna along with egg yolks, milk and orange juice, was found to play a crucial role in improving the mental well being for those at risk for depression, according to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Sunlight, the leading source of vitamin D, is vital not just for mental health but also immune system strength, Fisher said. He urged people to get at least 20 to 30 minutes of sunlight per day, even if that means just sitting by a window.
Experts also say that exercise can improve mental health and reduce stress, and with gyms closed amid the pandemic, people can take their routines outdoors for an added boost with a dose of sunlight.
Past epidemics, such as the SARS outbreak from 2002, also shed light on the lingering mental health effects that may plague individuals long after COVID-19 is contained.
“After the SARS outbreak calmed down, what they found out is that 29 percent of the people in quarantine experienced symptoms of PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder], and this is really critical because we might see some of these same effects around the world today,” Fisher said.
A resident lies on a sun lounger in protective clothing and with a mask behind barrier tape on Neumarkt in front of the Frauenkirche and reads a book in Dresden, Germany, Monday, March 23, 2020. To contain the coronavirus, Saxony now bans all gatherings of three or more people in public. (Robert Michael/dpa via AP)
Findings surrounding coronavirus continue to point to sunlight as a saving grace throughout the pandemic. Not only has it been argued to positively affect moods amid quarantine, but some experts believe sunlight may inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19 by way of UV rays.
Hong Kong University pathologist John Nicholls has said sunlight was one of three important factors that could cause the virus to be slowed as summer approaches.
Even on days when the sun isn't shining, Fisher said vitamin D can still be manufactured through cloud-filtered sunlight. And even if stormy spring weather forces families inside, imitated sunlight through technology can be crucial for mood regulation, and Fisher said that can done in a variety of different ways.
"As we find ourselves in temporary stay-in-place orders potentially by local or state governments and even possibly federally, we have to look at how we can get our daily dose of nature," Fisher said. "We can do that through videos on YouTube, you can go online and zoos are doing demonstrations of what the animals are doing, feeding them as well as just being able to observe them in nature. We can find old videos we have of our hikes and trips and things like that we might have taken to help us hear the sounds, experience the sounds and imagination is a great feature to help us mimic the effects of nature that we may be missing."
Along with establishing a consistent routine and maintaining a healthy diet of news consumption, Fisher said mindfulness and a positive attitude can be the crucial ingredients to turn a fearful situation into a growing experience.
Several mindfulness apps are offering free access amid the global pandemic, including the popular Headspace and Calm apps.
"We can turn what seems like a very difficult situation into an opportunity to learn," he said. "I often tell people life happens to us, not for us. And I especially believe that now. It’s teaching us to wash our hands. It’s teaching us the importance of health. It’s teaching us the importance of family and some of the things that we may have thought were important aren’t so important."
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