By Lauren Ford, Psy.D.
You’ve heard time and again that older adults are at a higher risk for severe illness related to COVID-19. So, you continue to stay home and physically distance from loved ones to protect yourself. But it’s been months, and it seems like there’s no end in sight.
As a result, you may be experiencing higher levels of stress, feelings of loneliness, and maybe even hopelessness. You’re not alone. Many Americans are increasingly experiencing “COVID fatigue.” Even former first lady Michelle Obama recently addressed the mental toll the pandemic has had on her.
Balancing your physical and mental health can be challenging, but there are many ways to cope with “COVID fatigue” and the feelings that can result from it.
Staying connected with loved ones
It’s important to know the difference between physical distancing and social isolation. Even though you’re taking precautions to protect your physical health, you still need social connection. Technology is a great tool to help you stay in touch with family and friends. Luckily, there are many resources available for this purpose:
- Messaging websites and applications, such as iMessage, Google Hangouts and WhatsApp;
- Social media websites, such as Facebook and Instagram;
- Hyperlocal websites and applications, which allow you to connect with your neighbors and exchange information, such as Ring and Nextdoor;
- Email and email greeting websites, which allow you to send free, personalized emails to loved ones;
- Group video chat websites and applications, such as Zoom, Skype and FaceTime; and
- Online game applications, which allow you to play games with loved ones.
If you don’t have access to a smartphone or computer, you also can consider sending a hand-written letter, personalized card or even have flowers delivered to your loved ones. Bringing joy to others is a great way to help yourself feel better by expressing your emotions and creativity.
Sticking to a healthy routine
It’s understandable that physical distancing can make enjoying your retirement difficult. It’s also important to find ways to adapt or create new routines that still include important activities. Continue a healthy routine by:
- Sticking to a consistent sleep routine and making sure you get at least seven hours of sleep each night.
- Creating a weekly balanced meal plan. Mental health is also influenced by how your body is nourished.
- Adapting your social routines. For example, if you used to meet friends for coffee on Monday mornings, consider doing a Zoom meeting with a homemade cup of coffee during that time slot.
- Limiting the amount of television you watch and news you read. Pick one trusted news source and check it only once or twice a day.
- Continuing to take your medications as instructed by your doctor. A regular medication plan can help you maintain a proper daily routine, especially if you have a chronic health condition.
Recognizing your feelings
Take time to recognize when you aren’t feeling the same or suddenly feel overwhelmed with sadness or worry, which can be signs of anxiety or depression. Other signs to look for include:
- Changes in sleeping habits, including difficulty falling or staying asleep, waking up too early or sleeping too much;
- Frequent aggravation or irritability;
- Inability to concentrate or make decisions;
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies or activities; and
- Chronic aches, pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that are unrelated to a medical condition.
It’s completely normal to feel some stress or worry. Being healthy doesn’t mean being worry free. If you feel like you need someone to talk to, there are several toll-free hotlines you can call:
- Disaster Distress Helpline (800) 985-5990: A national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress.
- LA County WarmLine (855) 845-7415: A peer-led non-emergency resource for anyone in California seeking emotional support. Assistance is provided by phone or web chat.
- Friendship Line (888) 670-1360: A hotline specifically for those over 60 looking for emotional support.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (877) 727-4747: A national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine (800) 950-6264: A free, nationwide peer-support service providing information, resource referrals and support to people living with a mental health conditions.
Although these resources are available to you, mood and anxiety disorders require help from a health professional. Your primary care provider can work with you to create a personalized treatment plan to help you manage your mental health and cope with the changes we’re all going through. They can refer you to a therapist or psychologist for additional support.
Find a primary care doctor who can help you cope with these unprecedented times at memorialcare.org/Providers or call 800-MEMORIAL.