• Unhealthy habits have skyrocketed during the pandemic, including alcohol use, unhealthy eating, and smoking. 
  • Staying positive and caring for your mental health is just as important as washing hands and wearing masks.
  • Steps to better mental resilience include practicing mindful breathing and establishing a daily time to cut off all coronavirus news.
  • If you have to ask "Do I need help" or "Do they need help?", then seek or offer help. 

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] JOHN WHYTE: Hi, everyone. I'm Dr. John Whyte, Chief Medical Officer of WebMD. For the past few months, I've been talking to experts about COVID-19 and the effects of the pandemic as part of our daily news show, called Coronavirus in Context.

How can we stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic? Wash hands, wear masks, clean surfaces, stay six feet apart. That's all true. But it's only focusing on our physical health. We need to take care of ourselves mentally and emotionally as well.

Arianna Huffington talked about the fear of uncertainty and how that causes us to double down on our bad habits. We're seeing alcohol sales and smoking rates skyrocket. We're eating unhealthy foods and experiencing coronavirus insomnia. Her secret to mental resilience is microsteps-- tiny daily incremental steps that end up with healthy behavior.

What are some of these microsteps?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: So let me give you-- we have over 1,000.

JOHN WHYTE: OK.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: But I'll give you my favorites when it comes to mental health.

JOHN WHYTE: Sure.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: The first one is, establish a cutoff every day when you stop consuming coronavirus news.

JOHN WHYTE: [LAUGHS] Yes.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: I totally get it-- that we want to be informed. But consuming coronavirus news, some of which is tragic and heartbreaking--

JOHN WHYTE: Yes.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: --just before you go to bed is going to make it harder for you to sleep, harder for you to go back to sleep if you wake up in the middle of the night. And sleep is foundational to our immunity and to our mental health.

JOHN WHYTE: That's right.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: And let me give you another small one.

JOHN WHYTE: Mm-hmm.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Before you go to sleep, before you turn off the lights, take your phone and charge it outside your bedroom.

JOHN WHYTE: Yeah.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Over 70% of the world wakes up, and before they're fully awake, goes to their phone.

JOHN WHYTE: Yeah.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: And you don't know what's there. It can be something--

JOHN WHYTE: Right.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: --really stressful. So another microstep is take-- take one minute-- 60 seconds-- to focus consciously on your breath, to set your intention for the day, to remember what you are grateful for, whatever you want.

JOHN WHYTE: Sure.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: But you have one minute to almost, like, put your arm around, prepare yourself for what the day brings, because we don't know what the day is going to bring.

JOHN WHYTE: That's right.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: And can I mention one other?

JOHN WHYTE: Sure.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Any time you are washing your hands, remember three things you are grateful for.

JOHN WHYTE: Oh.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Gratitude changes the neural pathways of the brain.

JOHN WHYTE: Yeah.

Tim Tebow shared this reminder-- that, let's not let moments of adversity define us. I asked him, how do we stay positive, recognizing that this is not a year any of us expected?

You have a lecturer where you talk about, this year may not be the year you expected. And that was done prior to this year. So clearly, this is not a year that most people expected. How do you stay positive during these times?

TIM TEBOW: Yeah. That's a really good question, John. You know, thanks for asking. I think it's important. I think-- I think faith, hope, and love, I think encouragement right now, I think having real passion and purpose for things are all things that I think our society needs and, honestly, the world needs right now.

And for me, I think how I would want to encourage all the listeners is to say that this might be a setback and it might be a knock down and it might be a hurdle and it might be disappointing for you, but in every one of those ways, it's an opportunity for you to learn, for you to grow, for you to adapt, and for you to be better.

And as the story goes, in the mid-1600s, in a pandemic like this, Isaac Newton came up with gravitational theory.

JOHN WHYTE: I did not know that.

TIM TEBOW: And he didn't, you know, wait around, saying, there's nothing I can do right now. It was an opportunity where you can have purpose, passion, and meaning. Right? You might not be able to do what you want to do, but it doesn't mean that you can't do anything. Right?

So I want to encourage people that you might not be able to travel the world right now, but you can help your neighbor. You can find something that you're passionate about. And you can work on it. You can build it. You can make a difference. You can do something.

JOHN WHYTE: So now we have a new normal. And that's going to take time to adjust to. Doctors Lieberman and Mayer from the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia explained that if you're having a hard time adjusting, reach out to family and friends. Talk to your doctor. Seek help.

I wanted to ask both of you, what tips would you give people or caregivers to recognize when someone needs help? That's not always that easy for some folks. They think they're doing OK, or they think everyone else is in the same place.

LAUREL MAYER: I think, if you have the question, do I need help, reach out. Just having that question says, maybe you do. So ask.

JEFFREY LIEBERMAN: I think that everybody benefits from it. When you say, needs help, you know, we're running a marathon, and the problem is that we can't pace ourselves, because we don't know if the marathon is going to be a half marathon or a full marathon or an Ironman marathon.

And everybody, as Laurel said, needs help. To be COVID safe, we have to be together safe, because we're not going to be able to do it alone, because everything is interdependent.

JOHN WHYTE: So where should people go for help?

JEFFREY LIEBERMAN: Well, people should be able to access mental health through the health care system that's available. So if you have a primary care doctor, you can start with that person. Say, look, I really need to see a psychiatrist or psychologist. Is there somebody you could refer me to?

In the absence of that, you look on the website of the local, particularly academic, medical centers. And they should have means to call a hotline to first get screened and then referred. Reach out to friends, and communicate with friends, because that ability to connect with individuals, particularly those that are able to be supportive to you, can be helpful in and of itself.

But, as Laurel said, don't wait. Don't hesitate. Err on the side of reaching out rather than waiting until you think, it gets so bad, I have to reach out.

JOHN WHYTE: Our goal at WebMD is to provide you the best information and help you manage your physical, emotional, and mental health. I appreciate you taking the time to watch. And I look forward to your feedback.