Finding Peace and Serenity During the Pandemic
The global COVID-19 pandemic has drastically impacted nearly every aspect of our lives throughout the past few years. Maintaining mental well-being is a constant challenge in the best of times but finding peace during a pandemic can seem nearly impossible, especially if you, like so many of us, struggle with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or substance use disorder.
While mass closures of schools and other public spaces, the transition to remote work, and quarantine mandates have helped to limit the spread of the virus, social distancing has taken a serious emotional toll. Nurunnabi, M., Almusharraf, N., & Aldeghaither, D. (2021). Mental health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic in higher education: Evidence from G20 countries. Journal of public health … Continue reading I’ve noticed that, along with existing mental health issues, COVID-19 has created new stressors for people in recovery, including fear of infection, worry for loved ones, boredom and frustration due to constraints on activities, financial losses, and inadequate medical care.
As we continue to face the most persistent global crisis since World War II, the direct and indirect psychological effects of the pandemic show no signs of disappearing. Experts believe that public mental health will suffer for years even after the virus reaches an endemic stage.
It’s been no surprise that people have sought various methods of coping during this difficult and uncertain moment in history, and it is far too easy for those of us in recovery to return our attention to alcohol, drugs, and other addictive behaviors. However, the feelings we try to numb do not truly go away. They only return stronger than before, creating a vicious cycle of avoidance, disappointment, and regret.
The only way to truly achieve peace of mind in stressful times is to confront these feelings directly, build your inner strength, and develop healthy strategies for coping over the long-term. I’ve shared some information below to help you learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on mental health and discover the best tips for finding serenity amidst the pandemic.
Mental Health Effects of COVID-19
As the endpoint of the pandemic remains elusive, billions of people are confronted with tremendous distress, uncertainty, and unpredictability, leading to the widespread emergence of serious mental health issues. Strict quarantine measures can disrupt our lives, prevent us from engaging in interpersonal relationships and make us feel as if our personal rights are being infringed upon. Feiz Arefi, M., Babaei-Pouya, A., & Poursadeqiyan, M. (2020). The health effects of quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic. Work, 67(3), 523–527. https://doi.org/10.3233/wor-203306
The unending media coverage of severely ill and dying patients keeps the tragedy fresh in our minds, and the knowledge that you may not have the chance to say goodbye to a loved one further magnifies worry and fear. If you are hospitalized from an infection and released, you may even fear social stigma due to the misconception that you contracted the virus because of your own unhealthy behaviors. All these factors combine to worsen the mental health of the general population, yet the impact of the pandemic has proven to disproportionately affect the following groups.
Older adults are most vulnerable to life-threatening complications and fatalities from the virus, so they are extremely worried about potential infection and possibly not having access to sufficient care. The media portrayal of COVID-19 as a disease of the elderly has also resulted in negative stereotypes and age-based discrimination, causing additional pain and trauma for them as well as their caregivers.
Because their brains are still developing, children, adolescents, and young adults are particularly susceptible to chronic stress conditions, which include school closures, forced isolation from peers, and loss of routine. Loneliness is strongly associated with depression and social anxiety among this group, and the children who were quarantined suffer higher levels of posttraumatic stress and are five times more likely to need mental health services. Tsamakis, K., Tsiptsios, D., Ouranidis, A., Mueller, C., Schizas, D., Terniotis, C., Nikolakakis, N., Tyros, G., Kympouropoulos, S., Lazaris, A., Spandidos, D., Smyrnis, N., & Rizos, E. (2021). … Continue reading
Mental health among college students has also become a pronounced area of concern during the pandemic. A recent interview-based study of college students in the U.S. demonstrates the specific ways that COVID-19 has affected mental health and well-being: Son, C., Hegde, S., Smith, A., Wang, X., & Sasangohar, F. (2020). Effects of COVID-19 on college students’ mental health in the United States: Interview survey study. Journal of Medical … Continue reading
- 91% reported increased fear and worry about their own health and the health of their family members, especially older adults and those with existing health problems.
- 86% experienced disruptions to sleep patterns, such as staying up later, waking up later, sleeping too much, or having poor sleep quality, and 38% of this group considered these disruptions to be severe.
- 86% reported increased social isolation, and 54% of this group said their interactions with others had decreased significantly.
- 44% stated that the pandemic has increased depressive thoughts, primarily due to feelings of loneliness, uncertainty, and hopelessness.
- 8% reported suicidal thoughts, with the main causes being depressive thoughts, concerns about academic performance, problems with family, and fear.
Individuals With Pre-Existing Mental Health Conditions
COVID-19 can significantly exacerbate psychiatric symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, panic, psychosis, and suicidality. Patients with pre-existing mental health issues are incredibly vulnerable to relapse and tend to be socioeconomically disadvantaged, meaning they are most drastically affected by stay-at-home orders and reduced access to employment. The pandemic has also caused disruptions of mental health services, and patients lucky enough to access care may be discharged before they are ready, encouraging relapse.
Most people experiencing homelessness either live on the streets without fresh water, reliable access to basic hygiene supplies, or healthcare, or they stay in congregate living settings that are conducive to spreading disease. Many suffer from mental and physical conditions or engage in substance use, and the pandemic can worsen their current mental health conditions or prompt new ones to emerge.
How to Achieve Peace and Serenity
Serenity, or inner peace, is crucial for maintaining mental health and sustaining recovery from substance use disorder. Of course, achieving serenity does not mean you will be filled with joy every moment of every day, but instead that you have found a sense of calm and peace within yourself. This reduces fear and anxiety, allows you to take a renewed outlook on life, and prepares you to effectively handle unexpected challenges.
By cultivating serenity, those of us in recovery can confidently approach the stressors of our daily lives without becoming overwhelmed or engaging in unhealthy behaviors. Such unhealthy behaviors include irrationally worrying about the potential outcome of every situation, jumping to the worst conclusions, or experiencing excessive anxiety over unrealistic threats.
When a close friend or family member suffers, fails, or feels inadequate, you likely respond with automatic love, kindness, and understanding. Self-compassion refers to orienting this perspective toward yourself when you struggle with certain setbacks. Being kind to yourself serves as a reminder that you are worthy of care, which in turn enhances your motivation for self-care and facilitates positive behavior changes, particularly if you are prone to experiencing shame, self-criticism, or unworthiness.
Research shows that self-compassion can directly affect self-regulation by mimicking the support of a compassionate other and encouraging you to engage in health-promoting behaviors. Schuman-Olivier, Z., Trombka, M., Lovas, D. A., Brewer, J. A., Vago, D. R., Gawande, R., Dunne, J. P., Lazar, S. W., Loucks, E. B., & Fulwiler, C. (2020). Mindfulness and behavior change. Harvard … Continue reading Ultimately, self-compassion means giving yourself permission to discover who you are, identify your values, and spend time on the things that bring you joy.
Emotions greatly influence your thinking, perception, and behavior, and learning to modulate your emotions is crucial for maintaining mental balance and well-being. Mindfulness is defined as the awareness that arises when you pay attention to the present moment with curiosity, openness, and acceptance. Rather than avoiding negative stimuli, suppressing your feelings, or forming judgments about your experience, you simply focus your awareness on a difficult moment when it occurs and allow yourself to freely feel your emotions.
Practicing mindfulness allows you to improve self-regulation, or the ability to adaptively recognize and regulate your attention, emotions, and actions so you are equipped to effectively respond to internal or environmental demands. In other words, by facing your emotions head-on, you can identify when you are feeling angry, scared, or depressed, and understand how these feelings impact your decisions. Then, you can find healthy coping mechanisms to deal with any stressors you may encounter.
Make Meaningful Connections
Extensive research shows that the presence of family members is a protective factor for mental health during the pandemic. Coppola, I., Rania, N., Parisi, R., & Lagomarsino, F. (2021). Spiritual well-being and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12. … Continue reading Married couples and families with children show higher levels of perceived mental health than singles and people without children. Having a supportive partner instead of going through this traumatic time alone allows you to benefit from greater emotional and material support, while taking care of children enhances coping and resilience strategies that can enhance psychological well-being.
Whether you live alone or with others, it is crucial to establish a strong support system with trusted family and friends to whom you can speak openly and honestly about your struggles and concerns. Make a commitment to regularly communicate with your loved ones via email, phone call, or virtual meeting applications, and reach out to them for support or advice when you need it.
Prepare for an Uncertain Future With Healthy Coping Skills
The pandemic has disrupted our lives in a variety of ways, and the ever-changing nature of the situation can feel daunting even to the most resilient of us. Although it may be tempting to avoid the constant barrage of COVID-19 related news and retreat from the world into your own little bubble, I can say with confidence that the only way out is through.
By following the tips above, you can stay grounded during this stressful and uncertain time, keep your anxiety in check, and learn to cope with challenges in healthy ways. If you are struggling with substance use disorder and need assistance finding peace during the pandemic, reach out today to get the help you need to support your recovery.
|↑1||Nurunnabi, M., Almusharraf, N., & Aldeghaither, D. (2021). Mental health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic in higher education: Evidence from G20 countries. Journal of public health research, 9(Suppl 1), 2010. https://doi.org/10.4081/jphr.2020.2010|
|↑2||Feiz Arefi, M., Babaei-Pouya, A., & Poursadeqiyan, M. (2020). The health effects of quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic. Work, 67(3), 523–527. https://doi.org/10.3233/wor-203306|
|↑3||Tsamakis, K., Tsiptsios, D., Ouranidis, A., Mueller, C., Schizas, D., Terniotis, C., Nikolakakis, N., Tyros, G., Kympouropoulos, S., Lazaris, A., Spandidos, D., Smyrnis, N., & Rizos, E. (2021). Covid‑19 and its consequences on Mental Health (review). Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine, 21(3). https://doi.org/10.3892/etm.2021.9675|
|↑4||Son, C., Hegde, S., Smith, A., Wang, X., & Sasangohar, F. (2020). Effects of COVID-19 on college students’ mental health in the United States: Interview survey study. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 22(9). https://doi.org/10.2196/21279|
|↑5||Schuman-Olivier, Z., Trombka, M., Lovas, D. A., Brewer, J. A., Vago, D. R., Gawande, R., Dunne, J. P., Lazar, S. W., Loucks, E. B., & Fulwiler, C. (2020). Mindfulness and behavior change. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 28(6), 371–394. https://doi.org/10.1097/hrp.0000000000000277|
|↑6||Coppola, I., Rania, N., Parisi, R., & Lagomarsino, F. (2021). Spiritual well-being and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.626944|