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Tips on how to stay mentally healthy during COVID-19 pandemic

A psychiatrist caring for jail inmates discussed how to deal with the psychological aspect of being stuck in our homes.

AUSTIN, Texas — Even though the stay-home order officially expires this Thursday, April 30, many people will still choose to social distance and keep to themselves. 

Dr. Ken Hopper is used to helping people adjust to confinement. He is the chief behavioral health administrator of Armor Health, which provides healthcare to correctional facilities across the country.

Hopper gave advice on what to do at a time like this as we deal with the psychological aspect of being stuck in our homes.

It's best to first keep your goals and plans simple, Hopper said.

"Restrictions around you make it hard to recreate how life was. Whether its patients we see in the correctional setting, or someone dealing with the coronavirus, you have to keep it simple," Hopper explained. "Plans and goals are best when they are tangible. For example, you want to exercise but can't go to your favorite gym or exercise class. How can you recreate the gym class using the space and items you have available to you at home?"

It's best to plan short term with a background of the long term.

"It is important to have context in mind. Where are you really trying to go? Plan for tomorrow with a goal of what you will do throughout the week," Hopper said. "Once you have one week planned, you'll add structure that gives most of us peace in an uncertain time. With one week planned, try for two and so on. Before you know it, your planning and goal setting will reach beyond the time you feel comfortable leaving home. We can't arrive at a destination without taking one step at a time."


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Hopper told KVUE you should also avoid the fear-multiplier.

"The real fear could be fear. Fear, anxiety and worry can make us skip 'computing' steps in a non-helpful spiral. It takes effort to back up and get on track with logical thinking under stressful times." Hopper said. "Give yourself a chance to think through fear and ask yourself if that fear is a logical step. We want to avoid the snowballing effect – we've all been through that. There's a worry with something that happened with work for example or in this case new news about coronavirus in terms of a promising treatment that didn't pan out. And then our minds can get to, 'oh no, there is no hope.' It's very important to not let snowballing happen."

Lastly, remember there is a positive end date.

"Those of us in quarantine or continuing to stay at home, like many inmates, don't have a life sentence. When your normal life changes drastically, it is easy to get caught in the daily mental quicksand," Hopper said. "A plan to move ahead always serves us well. Remind yourself you will see friends and family in person again. You will go to your favorite restaurant again. You will go back to a daily grind outside or your home that won't seem so tough anymore."

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