10 Mental Health Tips for People at High Risk for COVID-19

As a psychotherapist in multiple high-risk categories, I know it's hard, but here's how to cope.

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There are many factors that can put you in the "high-risk category" for coronavirus complications—from your age and your BMI to having immune deficiency, circulatory, diabetic, cardiac, and respiratory conditions. Having had asthma since I was a child, experiencing a heart attack at 55, overcoming pneumonia at 59, and now being 61, I'm squarely in several of those cautionary categories. As a psychotherapist, I know how difficult it can be to live with that information and keep your mind and body healthy. To help others who are high risk for COVID-19, here's my advice on handling your stress and staying safe. And for more on my experience, check out What It's Like to Be in Multiple High-Risk Categories for COVID-19.

1
Focus on what you enjoy.

senior man of color listening to music on couch with his hands behind his head
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Listen to music; watch some of many live-streamed concerts, movies, or lectures; or do a virtual museum tour. Whatever you love, find the time to do it! And for some tips on what's free to enjoy these days, check out 7 Things That Are Now Free Because of Coronavirus.

2
Ignore the news when possible.

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As much as possible, avoid repetitive newscasts and press conferences. Stay informed, but don't inundate yourself. In fact, a recent study published in the journal Risk Analysis suggests that having more knowledge about coronavirus may only heighten your anxiety.

3
Reach out to loved ones.

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Stay in touch with loved ones via phone, FaceTime, text, or Facebook messenger. When physical touch is not an option, being in touch electronically is a lifesaver. When I feel pangs of loneliness, I call family or friends, some of whom I haven't spoken to for years. And with social media, I feel as if I can have conversations with the world.

4
And talk to your neighbors from a safe distance.

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Talk to neighbors from a distance. Some neighborhoods "get together" from their lawns and balconies and sing. Finding a way to connect with people in person but at a safe distance is key. And for more tips on staying social amid the pandemic, check out 7 Easy Ways to Stay Social While in Isolation, According to Experts.

5
Get exercise.

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Walk in your neighborhood if it is safe to do so. Ride a bike. Workout in your home. My living room is now my gym with a yoga mat, hand weights, and an exercise ball that I use daily. Frankly, it is harder to avoid if it is right there in front of me.

6
Be aware of potentially dangerous habits.

Senior man holding and looking through a glass of red wine.
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If your default mode is to self-medicate with alcohol, food, or tobacco, give yourself a break from that if possible. It is easy to over-indulge when you're in a highly emotional state. And if you're struggling, check out 12 steps meetings online for support.

7
Focus on the good.

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Pay attention to the good news out there. There are so many stories of people doing good deeds for others—and those are the ones to keep reading. And if you're looking for stories like these, check out 13 Uplifting Stories That Will Warm Your Heart Right Now.

8
And on what you're grateful for.

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Focus on what you are grateful for. As I look around my home, I am grateful that I have all the creature comforts I need. I'm also grateful for family, like my grandson. My son and daughter-in-law send photos and videos every day so I can see him that way. It's nowhere near like the real thing, but I still appreciate how we can stay close for now.

9
Feel all of your emotions.

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Cry, rage, laugh, sigh—all are fair game in a time such as this. Don't question how you're feeling. Just allow yourself to feel.

And remember that this too shall pass and that there will be a time when we'll find our "new normal," having learned some valuable lessons about the importance of our relationships, the treasure of our health, and the resilience that we can exhibit.

10
Keep up with your mental health.

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I am a psychotherapist working in a group practice. Many of those I serve have, understandably, upped the amps on anxiety and depression. We switched to a telehealth platform to "see" our clients, since our offices are closed to them until the lockdown is lifted. It is working well, the next best thing to being there.

If you are working with a therapist, be sure to keep your appointments. But if you can't afford therapy right now and you're struggling, check out these 7 Free Anxiety Apps to Help You During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

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