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  • Nicole Ekiss, LCSW

Prioritizing Your Mental Health in the Midst of a Global Pandemic

Prioritizing Your Mental Health in the Midst of a Global Pandemic

We are in the midst of very challenging times and as we navigate the current global health crisis, it is important to pay special attention to our mental health. Social distancing protocols and shelter in place orders presents a unique set of challenges and can take a toll on our mental health. The following strategies can help you support your mental health during these uncertain times.

Keep the end in mind. This is a temporary situation and we will eventually be able to resume our normal activities. It is easy to get caught up in feelings of boredom, isolation, and loss as we focus on how life has changed and the things we are missing out on. Reminding ourselves that this is temporary can ease the anxiety that surfaces as our world is evolving to meet changing needs due to Covid-19. Focus on what's in your control. Many challenges have surfaced in the wake of Covid-19. For many people, these challenges include social, emotional, financial, and health concerns. Fear and anxiety are natural responses to difficult and uncertain times; it can be easy to get caught up in worry and we may find ourselves over-focusing on things outside of our control. You can't control Covid-19, what happens in the future, or the economic impact of global pandemics. But you can control the choices you make and by focusing on actions that are within your control, you can begin to regain a sense of security and control. Acknowledge your feelings. We are in the midst of difficult times and that can bring up a variety of emotions. It is okay to acknowledge the necessity of social distancing measures and stay at home orders, while also acknowledging that this may feel hard and bring up difficult emotions. You may be feeling down, isolated, or out of control. You may be grieving the loss of the things you thought you would be doing right now. Many plans have had to change relatively quickly and that can bring on feelings of uneasiness. You may be feeling okay and finding joy in the slower pace. However you are feeling is okay and acknowledging your feelings is an important part of coping with our current circumstances. Take care of your body. Mental health and physical health are closely interwoven. It is imperative to maintain proper physical health in order to maintain proper mental health. Drinking plenty of water, switching out the potato chips for some fruit and vegetables, and getting active will help boost your immune system and your mental health. Gyms are closed but outside is not. Get out, go for a walk or a run, do a workout video, or some burpees. Just get moving! Set a schedule. Our days may look different right now, but we can still set goals and a schedule for each day. This will help boost productivity and help you feel a sense of control. Start with making a list of things you want to accomplish each day and then designate times you will complete each task and stick to it. If your are struggling with motivation, start with something small that feels easy to accomplish and build momentum toward more lengthy or difficult tasks. As you start to check things off your list, the sense of accomplishment will keep you going. Keep yourself busy. This is the perfect time to complete that project you've been putting off, organize a closet, or clean out the garage. Finding ways to keep yourself busy can help distract you and provide a sense of control. You can't think about two things at once. If you are finding yourself consumed with worry, delve into a project and give yourself a break. Connect with friends and family. Social distancing doesn't mean emotional distancing. Find ways to connect with those you care about from afar. This can be as simple as shooting a friend a daily text to check in. Many people have found video chats a helpful substitution for face to face contact. Write letters or send cards letting people know you are thinking about them. We are not designed to be solitary creatures. Our brains are wired for connection, it is important during these times to find ways to connect with others to support our mental health. Spend time outside each day. Spending time outside can boost mental health. Direct sunlight and fresh air can help rejuvenate you when you are feeling frustrated, closed in, or just tired of being at home. Go for a walk or just sit outside for a bit and enjoy the sunlight and fresh air. Limit your social media and news intake. Social media can be a great thing and provides us with connection with others as well as immediate access to news updates. Too much access though can be harmful. Recognize when you are feeling overwhelmed by the information and take action to reduce the time you spend on social media each day. Selecting one news source or one time per day to focus on that can be helpful. It is important to stay up to date, but it is not necessary or helpful to let that be your entire focus of the day. Select a few minutes each day that you will update yourself with new information and then focus on other things. Take action. Examine your values and try to do things that are important to you. Can you help someone with a task or make cards for residents at a nursing home? Can you set time aside to play with your kids or go for a walk with your significant other? Make time for activities that bring you joy and that you find relaxing. Self care has to be a priority right now and will help you stay on top of your mental health. Make time for mindfulness. You may find a wide range of emotions surfacing during these times and mindfulness techniques can help you weather the storm. Taking slow deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth, while redirecting your attention to what is going on in the present can help you work through difficult emotions. Take time to notice what your can see, hear, smell, or taste in the current moment. Complete a body scan to notice any tension you may be storing in your body and actively focus on relaxing your muscles. There are many apps that can help support with mindfulness through guided meditation such as Simple Habit, HeadSpace, and Calm. Give yourself some grace. This is new for everyone and is not a permanent situation. Give yourself a break if you are not as productive as you normally would be or you haven't mastered a schedule or implemented a home schooling curriculum with your children. You don't have to remodel your whole house, master a second language, and have your kindergartener ready for college entrance exams by the end of the month. Celebrate small successes and be okay with imperfection. We are all new at this and learning as we go. You got out of bed today? Good for you! You took a shower? Even better! You didn't burn down your house trying to cook dinner? You are a rock star! Let's cut ourselves some slack and just focus on getting through. This will come to an end and we will arrive on the other side of this. Just keep going. Know the signs for a mental health crisis. There may come a point during this pandemic or other times in your life, where you may need to seek professional support to address your mental health. If you are experiencing elevated levels of depression or anxiety or thoughts of suicide or self harm, it is important to seek help immediately. The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention has a crisis hotline:  1-800-273-8255 or there is a crisis text line (text home to 741741).  Locally, heritage has a crisis line and crisis workers that can assist in mental health crises.  Their number is 217.362.6262.

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