Mental Health in an Uncertain World. Choosing a Healthy & Self-Nurturing Lifestyle

Woman with eating disorder in field

While life has always held some degree of uncertainty (after all, none of us knows what the future holds), the world has become an even more uncertain place in the past six months due to the COVID-19 crisis. With so much uncertainty and an increased risk for mental health problems, taking care of your mental and physical health is more important than ever before. Here are three practical ways you can choose a healthy and self-nurturing lifestyle amidst an uncertain world.

Uncertainty Impacts Your Mental Health

Thanks to COVID-19, the economic and social order of our lives screeched to a halt seemingly overnight, leaving millions of people in a place of extreme uncertainty. From ongoing health-related fears and financial anxieties to the extra responsibilities and stressors that come with disrupted routines (closed schools, no childcare, etc.), it’s no wonder mental health problems have skyrocketed since last year.

The National Center for Health Statistics and Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey found that in the third week of July 2020, 36 percent of adults had symptoms of an anxiety disorder compared to only 8.2 percent last year [1]. The same study revealed 30 percent of adults showed symptoms of depressive disorder compared to just 6.6 percent last year.

And while research shows fear of the unknown leads to higher levels of anxiety among healthy people, it can have an even more severe impact on those with pre-existing mental health conditions, like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders [2].

In fact, one study revealed that individuals with anxiety, depression, and eating disorders are less able to cope with uncertainty compared to the general population [3]. This difficulty in handling uncertainty can lead to an increase in disordered behaviors, anxiety, and depression.

The good news is, even if you can’t control the headlines or end the uncertainty going on in the world right now, you can control your response to it. By implementing a healthy and self-nurturing lifestyle, you can alleviate anxiety and stress, protect and support your mental health, and face these uncertain times with a sense of calm and confidence.

Choosing a Healthy & Self-Nurturing Lifestyle Amidst an Uncertain World

Man struggling with mental healthIf you are struggling to cope with uncertainty, here are three things you can do to choose a healthy and self-nurturing lifestyle and better support your mental health during these uncertain times.

Seek Professional Help for Mental Health

One of the most important things you can do to protect your mental health during a time of uncertainty is to seek professional help. This is especially critical for anyone who’s been diagnosed with a pre-existing mental health problem or with a background of mental illness. And even if you can’t see a therapist in person right now, many specialists are now offering online therapy sessions. Here are several resources to help you find professional online support:

  • Better Help https://www.betterhelp.com/
  • Talk Space https://www.talkspace.com
  • MEDA Eating Disorder Recovery Support Groups https://www.medainc.org/services/heal/medas-recovery-groups/
  • 7 Cups of Tea https://www.7cups.com/

Stay in the Present Moment

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” — Amit Ray

During times of uncertainty, it’s easy to let your mind race with worries and fears about the future. Since you can’t ultimately control what’s going to happen tomorrow, next week, or a year from now, these thoughts only lead to anxiety and stress. So when you catch your mind racing down a path of fear and anxiety, pull it back to the present moment and focus on what you can control–today, and your response to it.

One of the best ways to stay in the present moment and keep your mind from racing towards anxiety is to practice mindfulness. Here are a few simple techniques you can start practicing every day to help you calm anxiety and stay grounded in the present moment:

  • Listen to a guided meditation when you start feeling anxious
  • Stop and take deep breaths
  • Journal every morning
  • Move your body (gentle walk, yoga flow, etc.)
  • Get outside in nature

Take Care of Your Body

Woman thinking about how to improve her mental healthYour mind is not the only thing affected by uncertainty. When your mind is trying to cope with extra anxiety, stress, and fear, the body is under attack, also. Stress can have negative impacts on everything from your blood pressure and reproductive health to your blood sugar levels, heart health, and immune system functioning (which is especially important right now) [4]. In short, taking care of your body during times of uncertainty is one of the most critical things you can do for your overall well being.

Here are a few tips to help you take care of your body during times of uncertainty:

  • Prioritize Sleep: Chances are, you need more sleep right now than you did before, so turn off the phone and go to bed an hour or two earlier.
  • Practice Gentle Nutrition: While you may be tempted to stress eat sweets or skip meals entirely when you feel stressed or anxious, feeding your body with nutrient-rich foods is key to supporting your mental and physical health. So start incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet and make sure you’re eating three solid meals a day.
  • Stay Hydrated: Studies show that dehydration can lead to (and intensify) feelings of anxiety, stress, and anger. On the other hand, drinking plenty of water can work to calm and soothe the body during times of stress [5].
  • Embrace Self-Care: During times of stress, the last thing we want to do is listen to our bodies, slow down, and take a break. But this is often the very thing we desperately need. So look for ways that you can simplify and slow down your life, say “no” to things that add stress to your daily schedule, and be willing to take a few hours off–or better yet a whole day–to take care of yourself. You’ll come back feeling recharged, refreshed, and better able to handle what life brings your way.

References:
[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, September 9). Mental Health – Household Pulse Survey – COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/covid19/pulse/mental-health.htm.

[2] Julio Torales, M. O. H. The outbreak of COVID-19 coronavirus and its impact on global mental health – Julio Torales, Marcelo O’Higgins, João Mauricio Castaldelli-Maia, Antonio Ventriglio, 2020. SAGE Journals. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0020764020915212.

[3] F. Awenat, B. B., PA. Boelen, A. R., J. Bomyea, H. R., GI. Britton, G. C. L. D., M. Brown, L. R., Carleton, R. N., … S. Wilhelm, G. S. (1970, January 1). Intolerance of Uncertainty as a Transdiagnostic Mechanism of Psychological Difficulties: A Systematic Review of Evidence Pertaining to Causality and Temporal Precedence. Cognitive Therapy and Research. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10608-018-9964-z.

[4] Pietrangelo, A. (2020, March 29). The Effects of Stress on Your Body. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/stress/effects-on-body.

[5] Schwartz, S. (2019, June 17). Parents Can Get Their Children Hydrated to Soothe Anxiety. Verywell Family. https://www.verywellfamily.com/water-to-soothe-childs-anxiety-4098581.


About the Author:

Sarah Musick PhotoSarah Musick is a freelance writer who specializes in eating disorder awareness and education. After battling with a 4-years long eating disorder, she made it her mission to help others find hope and healing in recovery.

Her work has been featured on numerous eating disorder blogs and websites. When she’s not writing, Sarah is off traveling the world with her husband.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published September 30, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on September 30, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.