Written by Valerie Davis, LPC
Due to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation we all face, now is an especially important time to practice self-care and tend to your mental well-being. The recent requirements for social distancing, as well as the virus itself, can increase feelings of fear, loneliness, anxiety, and sadness. Protect yourself by making your mental health a priority.
The first way you can maintain your mental health during this time is to remember that this is all hopefully temporary. While we may not know how long the virus and the shifts in society’s functioning will last, studies have found negative impacts from engaging in future worrying, or anticipatory anxiety. Some of their findings include connecting anticipatory anxiety to increased stress, feelings of being unsafe, fearful, and/or anxious. These internal experiences can then lead to maladaptive coping mechanisms such as unhealthy eating habits, substance use, overspending, or fully isolating oneself. In addition, data shows us that increased levels of fear and stress can also weaken the immune system.
So what can we do to help slow our minds down? See below!
Research has continued to find that mindfulness helps reduce stress, anxiety, fear, and depression while also improving sleep and lowering blood pressure by guiding us to stay focused on the present moment and activating our parasympathetic nervous systems. The parasympathetic nervous system informs our minds and bodies that we are safe, encourages physical tension to melt away, and slows our breathing. Mindfulness can be practiced in almost any daily activity; the goal is to practice focusing on the present moment, and when you get distracted, to bring your attention back to what you are doing currently. One way is to check in with your five senses and name one thing within each sense (sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing) that you notice right now to help reconnect you with present surroundings. Another way could be to practice deep breathing: try inhaling and counting to four, holding your breath for four seconds, then exhaling for four seconds, and holding your breath for four final seconds. Repeat this as needed and feel free to shift your second count to what is comfortable for you. You can even mindfully eat, walk your dog, or listen to music. Use this time to experiment with various mindfulness techniques that can help you stay grounded and keep your brain from running off into the future.
A professor I had in graduate school used to always say, “find the golden nugget.” He would use this phrase to refer to finding the one positive thing that occurred in a given moment. Take some time each day to identify one positive thing that you are experiencing; this could be getting yard work done, reorganizing the pantry, finally sewing that button back on your jacket, or having more time to read those books your friends recommended so long ago.
The benefits of this are not only checking off items on your to-do list, but also decreasing feelings of stress, strengthening immunity, and increasing feelings of resilience, all of which are critical to your mental well-being during this time. Golden nuggets are not always staring us right in the face, and it may take time to sift through mixed thoughts and emotions to identify them. Sit down, take time to reflect, or maybe talk to a friend about how they are using this time beneficially to get some ideas for your own golden nuggets.
The third tip to help maintain your mental health is to stay connected. With the recent shift to social distancing, feelings of loneliness may increase which has been linked to depression, illness, lower cognitive function, and even heart disease. While many places of social gathering have been temporarily shut down and many people are working remotely, we are fortunate to live in a time with other means of connection. Rather than constantly scrolling through social media pages reading everyone’s thoughts on COVID-19, use this platform to your benefit and stay in touch. Take some time to video chat with family and friends, send a message to that old coworker or roommate you’ve been meaning to reconnect with, or play an online game with your sibling. Those who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression, as well as higher self-esteem and greater empathy for others. Social media can either fuel or mitigate one’s feelings of fear at this time. Be intentional with your internet use for your mind’s sake.
Seek Professional Help
Finally, do not hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional. If meeting with a therapist face-to-face is not an option for you, we at Urban Balance are offering teletherapy services to continue to support people during this time. If professional help feels right for you or a loved one, please contact us at 888-726-7170 or firstname.lastname@example.org to get matched with a licensed therapist.
This is a challenging and uncertain time, please maintain your mental health by using all resources available to you.