Novel coronavirus: tips for good mental health

COVID-19, anxiety and depression: the pandemic is a real challenge. Not just for physical, but also for mental health. Many people are experiencing stress, not just because they are afraid of contracting the disease itself, but also because they are anxious over losing their job and social isolation. This article looks at how people can boost their mental resilience.

At a glance

  • The COVID-19 pandemic is causing many people psychological stress, for instance due to financial worries or the lack of social contact.
  • Initial scientific studies have shown that the levels of psychological stress, as well as anxiety and depression are higher in the population when there are restrictions on going out.
  • Misinformation can increase anxiety and uncertainty. People need to exercise caution when choosing sources of information.
  • Economic challenges are currently often leading to fears over losing one’s livelihood. Problem-solving and mindfulness strategies can help with this.
  • Relaxation techniques, exercise, positive activities and a well-structured daily routine can all help reduce stress and promote healthy sleeping patterns.
  • People who are experiencing higher levels of stress should not be shy of getting professional help.

Note: The information in this article cannot and should not replace a medical consultation and must not be used for self-diagnosis or treatment.

COVID-19 and mental health: young woman looking into the camera. She is wearing a medical full face mask.

What impact is the COVID-19 pandemic having on mental health?

The Corona pandemic is a huge challenge for many people. It is also often increasingly difficult to do without social contact.

Many people are worried that their nearest and dearest, for example their grandparents, could become infected. Others are struggling to keep afloat economically or are feeling socially isolated. These are just a few of the many serious aspects of the crisis.

There is increasing evidence that levels of psychological stress, anxiety and depression rose during the Corona crisis in spring 2020. Younger people (aged 18 to 24), women and parents of pre-school children in particular appear to have been the most affected by psychological stress as a result of the pandemic. It is less clear whether people with pre-existing mental disorders are developing new or more severe symptoms as a result of the Corona pandemic. But initial research results do suggest that this is the case.

A continuous survey of a large number of people has been conducted since March 2020 in an online study of the “psychological state” of the German people. The people in the survey were asked about their general fears, anxieties and worries. They reported that anxieties and worries increased when restrictions on social contact were brought in in spring and autumn. Then anxieties and worries subsided somewhat in summer. Concerns about the general economic situation, by contrast, remained high from spring to autumn.

How to cope with economic problems and fear of losing one’s livelihood

Many companies have had to scale down operations as a result of the measures taken to combat the pandemic. This applies particularly to the catering, hospitality and events sectors but also many other self-employed people and entrepreneurs. Despite the financial support provided by the government, many people are experiencing great uncertainty and fear that they may lose their livelihood.

Fear or anxiety is an entirely normal response to a threat to one’s livelihood. According to a representative survey in July 2020, around half of all Germans were already worried that their living costs would rise and the economic situation would get worse.

Important: If this applies to you, start by trying to assess whether your fears about the situation are justified. Are the state of your finances and your professional future really that bad? Try to review the facts and your options as objectively as possible. Look on the government’s websites to find out about potential financial help. 

Relaxation techniques and methods such as yoga or mindfulness training can also help you to cope with irrational fears and factors outside your control.

What alleviates chronic stress and ensures a good night’s sleep?

The Corona pandemic has put many people in a state of alert. The body responds with stress which is temporarily performance-enhancing. That’s great if the energy released can be converted into something useful. However if activation is not followed by action and the state of alert becomes permanent, people eventually become exhausted and run down. 

Researchers have discovered that chronic stress does not just have psychological effects. It also weakens the immune system, making people more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Stress and worry also adversely affect sleep and can cause sleep disorders. And the COVID-19 pandemic itself can disrupt people’s old structures and rituals. Some people then try to fight their worries and fears with alcohol or other narcotics. But this also has an adverse effect on the quality of their sleep. This leads to a cycle of physical and mental vulnerability.

Taking breaks, relaxing and exercising to beat stress and sleep better

The first thing to think about is taking breaks. That can be difficult during the Corona pandemic, particularly for people with children. Many parents find it difficult to find time for themselves, particularly when nurseries and schools reduce their hours or even close down. 

But whether or not you have children, it’s particularly important during a pandemic to make good use of the time available for yourself. Do things that relax you instead of losing yourself in the news or social media. Pause with breathing exercises or other relaxation techniques that help you calm down. Anything that calms you down or relaxes you will also help you to sleep better.

Anything that calms you down or relaxes you will also help you to sleep better.

Brisk physical activity such as jogging, going for walks or cycling strengthens the body’s immune defenses. Activities such as mindfulness-based stress reduction training and various forms of psychotherapy can also reduce chronic stress. They also help to boost the body’s defenses against the virus.

Rituals can also reduce stress and promote good sleeping patterns, such as having a hot bath or regularly drinking (herbal) tea before going to sleep. You should also only have a light evening meal. It’s a good idea to cut down on your alcohol and coffee intake. Try to avoid sleeping during the day. It’s also best to avoid watching television or using your smartphone in bed. Finally, it’s helpful if you only go to bed when you are really tired. Getting a good night’s sleep is a good way to reduce chronic stress.

How to cope with quarantine and isolation

Most people find it very difficult if they have to go into quarantine. After all, it represents a huge sacrifice of one’s freedom of movement and enormous restrictions on one’s social life. These are compounded by being worried about the potential infection with the novel coronavirus or actually having the disease. Many things that keep people grounded in their everyday life are simply not there during quarantine.

But the pandemic can cause feelings of isolation and loneliness even outside quarantine. At the start of 2020 the authorities in large areas of Germany required the population to stay at home except where they had compelling reasons to go out. These included food shopping or medical and health grounds. In addition, night-time curfews were imposed in many areas during the so-called “emergency brake” period.

Many people are generally living more isolated lives during the pandemic. That might be because of the restrictions on going out or on contacts, or the restrictions on leisure activities. People who live in isolation over long periods often start to feel lonely and become more prone to anxiety disorders and depression.

Protection from feelings of isolation

Humans are social beings, and that doesn’t change during a pandemic. Keep up your social contacts, whether you’re in quarantine or are suffering from the restrictions on contact. Write messages and communicate with people. 

Important: Phone calls or video calls are an even better way to avoid feeling lonely in spite of the restrictions on contact. It can sometimes be a bit of an effort to phone someone up. But it’s worth it, particularly now.

What other factors help to protect mental health during the pandemic?

Pay more attention than usual to healthy eating. Ensure that you have a good daily and weekly routine. That can be particularly challenging if you can’t go to work. If that applies to you, plan what you’d like to do and achieve on a specific day or over a week. 

It’s important to schedule in as many positive activities as possible. It might require a bit more imagination depending on the level of restrictions (including those on contacts). What are the things you haven’t been able to enjoy for ages? A book, a film, a series on the TV or radio? Is there a hobby you could perhaps revive such as singing, dancing or painting? These activities may seem trivial but they can help to protect you.

What other helpful facts on the pandemic are there?

Every crisis comes to an end

No-one knows how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last. Experts are unwilling and unable to put a definite time on it. Many people find this very difficult. But every pandemic in human history has come to an end sometime. The Spanish flu pandemic lasted a bit more than a year, as did Asian flu, whilst the Hong Kong flu pandemic lasted a bit more than two years. And the COVID-19 pandemic will come to an end, too. So it’s perfectly correct and reasonable to tell yourself “The current crisis will pass.” It may well last for some time yet, but this pandemic will not be a permanent state of affairs.

It may well last for some time yet, but this pandemic will not be a permanent state of affairs.

The measures are effective

Observing the rules for hygiene and distancing, wearing protective masks, limiting contacts with others, regular ventilation and getting vaccinated reduce the risk for infection and the mortality rates. That also means people are not helpless against the virus but can do something to stop it. Keeping this in the back of your mind could make it easier to put up with the anti-pandemic measures.

What professional help is available?

If you’re worried about your mental health don’t put off getting professional help. Tell your general practitioner about the difficulties you’re having.

If you’re not sure who to contact, phone the appointments office of the Associations of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians on 116 117. They will connect you to a psychotherapist who will talk to you to help decide whether you need psychotherapy and if so what type of psychotherapy would be of most help for you. An increasing number of psychotherapists are now also offering telephone and video therapy.

If you are experiencing severe psychological stress and need advice immediately, phone the Telefonseelsorge crisis hotline or use their chat facility.

The German Psychological Society has lots of tips and assistance with the Corona pandemic for adults, families, children and adolescents.

The “Families under Pressure” project also provides special help for families. It operates under the auspices of the German Federal Minister for Family Affairs.

The website of the German Association for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics (DGPPN) also provides tips on mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reviewed by the German Psychological Society (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Psychologie e. V.). As at:

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