If you feel that COVID-19 is a threat to your mental health as well as your physical health, you are not alone. Your mental health requires real attention. Being intentional about your mental health strategy can help you get through this strange and stressful time.
The big changes we are making to help our collective well-being as we confront COVID-19 present new challenges to our mental health. Change, especially on this massive scale, is likely to feel difficult and daunting, manifesting feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and hopelessness.
Certainty, familiarity and a sense of control are elements of our world that maintain a sense of safety and security. Typically, we feel best when these things are in place.
Therefore, it’s natural to feel unsettled during this time of scary news and unprecedented social distancing. This current change is unanticipated and experienced at such a large scale, our systems begin to feel overwhelmed. You might find yourselves engaging in old habits that once helped you cope, but now are unhelpful.
While this can be discouraging, see if you can work to recognize old coping mechanisms and gently redirect yourself to more adaptive ways to coping during this time. Here are some ideas to help support you as you confront a time of change and stress.
Adapt. In times of change, adapting is essential. You have inherent resiliency and resourcefulness and this is the time to be in touch with those superpowers. Find ways to change the structure of your day and your weekly routine to reflect the current context. For some, this means more outdoor time, adding more music, finding ways to increase small joy and fun. It is helpful to alter your family dynamics to reflect children being out of school and adults being home from the office. How can you work together as a team, being flexible about meeting each other’s needs? Consider new and different ways to connect with your social supports and community. How can you use technology to have fun in new ways with the people you care about?
Release expectations. Release the expectation that with all this new time at home, you must do everything you otherwise wouldn’t have time to do. Often, we’re not used to having such a significant amount of time in our homes. Let’s utilize this time to release the expectation that we have to be go-go-go, and embrace what it means to act more mindfully and with intention. Allow yourself to slow down, it is an important part of our well-being that we often neglect due to personal and professional responsibilities and societal messaging. It can feel uncomfortable initially; however, give yourself the permission to practice and notice your experience. For those who find themselves balancing more responsibilities and roles than previously, release the expectation that it all must get done. Create a timeframe that is less rigid and more flexible.
Grieve. You are experiencing a form of loss as you respond to mandates seeking to mitigate this pandemic. Some people may experience a loss of normalcy with their routine and structure. Some may experience a loss of connection and community as we practice social distancing. Others may experience a loss of income that comes with a change in employment status and/or productivity. For those whose health is compromised, they may experience a loss of safety. Recognizing the presence of loss and allowing yourself to grieve will be helpful in adapting to these changes, rather than becoming resistant to what is. Familiarize yourself with the waves of grief (as they don’t exist in a hierarchical order) and name them as they appear: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Like grief, our response will look different for each person.
Cope. Find ways to cope with your emotional experience. You may already have a practice, or you may need to adapt or create one. During times of emotional distress, it is helpful to learn how to regulate yourself so that your emotions don’t feel too big and overwhelm you. Some may achieve self-regulation through mindfulness exercises and meditation. Others may find it through physical exercise and eating well. Some may need a space to express themselves through creative expression such as writing, drawing, painting or by connecting with friends, family or mental health professionals.
Set boundaries. Social media can provide a sense of connectedness; however, it can also manifest and reinforce difficult emotions such as fear, anger, and hopelessness. The news outlets are similar: they can provide us with important information; however, that information can feel overwhelming and exacerbate difficult emotions and reinforce unhelpful thought patterns. Be mindful of your physiological response to these platforms. Does your body become tense? Do you experience a change in body temperature? Is there a sense of restlessness and you find it difficult to keep your body still? These are all cues informing yourself that boundaries are needed (as well as coping skills). You may set a time limit for use of social media apps or time spent accessing news outlets. You may choose to interact with social media accounts or view news outlets that present information differently, in a more compassionate and gentler way. Or you may decide to not start your morning or end your day by accessing these platforms.
Communicate. As humans we are social beings, and we thrive when we feel connected to others. Yes, connection is often acquired through in-person interactions; however, we cannot ignore how alternative means can cultivate and facilitate a sense of connectedness and belonging. What is great about the technological advances of our society today is that we are able to connect in many ways that were unimaginable a decade ago. Additionally, remind yourself that when we are not interacting directly with others, we can still connect energetically. We can wish each other well and hold space to acknowledge each other and our unique and shared experiences. Although we may be witness to some responding to this pandemic with self-interest, look for those who are creating a sense of solidarity.
Remind yourself: it’s okay to not be okay. We frequently feel the pressure to put on a front for ourselves and others; however, by denying or minimizing how we’re feeling, we are likely to worsen how we feel. Give yourself and others the time and space we each need to process, adapt and heal.
Molly Young, LCSW is a therapist at New Approaches in Falmouth, Maine. She assists in clients manifesting their truest and most authentic, positive self. She has extensive experience working with issues related to depression, anxiety, life transitions, stress management, family systems and grief. She is accepting new clients for teletherapy. Reach Molly by email at [email protected]