As this COVID-19 pandemic gets worse, I’ve seen a lot of folx struggling with changes in their mental health or new anxieties. As someone who has lived with severe anxiety for most of my life, I wanted to put together a small list of mental health tips and suggestions.
I am not a therapist, but I have been through many, many years of therapy and spent a lot of money reading, learning, and talking with licensed metal health practitioners about how to deal with my (sometimes crippling) anxiety. Some mental health tips that are helping me deal with the pandemic are outlined below.
- Take social media breaks. It’s good to be informed; it’s hard to stay calm if we interact with social media 24/7. There is a huge difference between being informed and allowing ourselves to become obsessive about the news. Block accounts that induce panic. Try to only read reports/news that have been shared by experts in the field. For example: I have a friend who is a Distinguished Professor of Genetics – I trust the information she puts online because she has the background and education to filter out incorrect articles. She also posts funny things about wine and her kids. It’s important to follow those kinds of people in a pandemic, too.
- Gain levity. Those Facebook accounts that are funny and uplifting? Those are important. We can’t be constantly alert, tense, or anxious. Moments of laughter and levity make life beautiful.
- Go outside. Outside is free. Outside can ground you. Focus on what you see (trees, leaves), what you hear (birds), what you feel (the sun). Being outside can help you ground yourself in the present moment.
- Focus on living one day at a time. For many of us, anxiety comes when we look too far in the future. It’s good to be prepared and have contingency plans, but once you have them, focus on the present moment as much as possible. Are you safe right now? Are you full? Are you comfortable? Allow your mind to rest in your current sensations, especially if your mind is consistently racing to the future.
- Remember gratitude and positivity. I used to hate people who told me that gratitude and positivity could change the world. And while I know positivity will not stop a virus from killing me, it can change my reaction to what’s happening around me, how I perceive others, how I experience my current situation, and my overall satisfaction with life.
- Side story: I used to be a negative Nelly. I saw only the worst in other people and was constantly lamenting my situation and the bad things that were happening to me. As I’ve matured and been able to use the tools my therapists have given me, I’ve found that the practice of gratitude has really been life-changing.
- My practice:
- Wake up in the morning and name three things you’re thankful for. It can be small – I slept through the night! No night terrors! I am in a comfy bed. I have a roof over my head. It’s the weekend, etc. Starting a practice as soon as you wake up can rewire your habits and the way you think about things.
- Look for what you can learn from challenges. I have spent most of my life looking for a partner. As the COVID-19 pandemic became worse, I worried about being quarantined alone. What I’ve recently realized is that by being on my own for so long, I am prepared to shelter in place by myself for a long time, if necessary.
- Ground yourself in gratitude when you begin to feel overwhelmed. Name one thing you are thankful for in the present moment. For example: a neighbor of mine is currently practicing the ukulele. I am thankful to get a free, impromptu concert.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Help can mean lots of different things. For me, a text from a friend can make an extraordinary difference in my day. Don’t be afraid to ask for things as the pandemic wears on. Ask for regular phone calls with loved ones. Set up Skype or Facetime check-ins. Your loved ones may not always be able to meet your needs, but they won’t meet ANY of them if you don’t ask.
- Feel your feelings. The best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten is to get through my feelings instead of focusing on pushing them away. Cry, if you have to. Yell. Run. Punch a pillow. COVID-19 is scary and it’s normal to have intense feelings about it. If you can feel those feelings (as scary as they might be), you will be a whole lot happier and healthier.
It seems strange to be thankful for a mental health disorder, but over the last week or so I have become incredibly grateful for the strategies and coping mechanisms I’ve learned because of my anxiety. To be very clear – I still have worries. I worry about my job security. I worry about having enough food and not being able to pay rent. But I also know I am capable of dealing with challenges as they arise, and I can trust myself to make good decisions when I need to. In addition, I have deep faith that my community and loved ones will show up when I need them most. I am hopeful that most of us can say the same.
Sending light and love to everyone.
Mental Health Instagram accounts to follow during the COVID-19 pandemic:
(These people are licensed professionals!)