There is a lot of information circling now regarding the pandemic. I don’t intend to add to the sometimes flood of information. However, I thought I would just write briefly about ways of safeguarding mental health during this crisis.
Many, including those of us in the SF Bay Area, are now following stay-in-place orders from health-care officials. We are at home. People have been working from home for a couple of weeks now. Kids are at home from schools. And everyone is living with a sense of fear about what may, develop. Hopefully you are not panicking. All the experts tell us not to panic.
So what can people do to maintain mental health and in particular combat feelings of isolation (particularly for people living alone)?
- Staying connected. Clients are telling me that they are being even more purposeful about staying connected – over the phone or by video or social media – with friends and family. People are reaching out more just to talk and maintain connection.
- Exercise. Stress is a main factor in lowering the body’s immune system, and exercise is a great way to lower stress. However, gyms are closed and we are told to limit time outside. For those without cold or flu symptoms, getting outside – walking, hiking, running, biking – seems essential. Of course, people should maintain social distancing, 6 feet between others, but that doesn’t seem so hard to do outside.
- Meditation. If one hasn’t done meditation, this might be a great time to download an app or google different ways to meditate. Meditation is a proven practice to lower stress, to give one a sense of grounding and contentment. Perhaps not instantly. What most newcomers to meditation discover immediately is that the mind, especially in such a time of chaos and uncertainty, is a busy place. Not something that feels so calming. However, the essence of all mediation practice is to gently accept what happens. If the mind is busy, to notice that, not fight it, but gently try to get back to what one is focusing on (breath, counting numbers, etc.). All with an ease of acceptance. Gradually, that practice leads to a greater sense of contentment.
- Private time. While people might be cooped up together, it’s important to take private time. Maybe that means a little time by oneself in the bedroom while somebody else is in the living room. Maybe it means people working, reading, talking to others in a private space in the house. Preserving a sense of privacy is important.
- Communication. While privacy is so important, so is connecting, deeply communicating. Taking time to talk about what you are feeling, about fears, anxieties, hopes. Good mental health includes good expression of feelings. And that involves others.
- Staying engaged. Maybe it’s time to work in the garden, start that Russian novel you’ve always wanted to read, do a jigsaw puzzle. Doing activities that stimulate the mind.
- Limiting the consumption of news. While we want to say informed and up-to-date, the constant barrage of news coverage about the pandemic is stressful and at times overwhelming. So as a song by Lucas Nelson says, “turn off the news…” Or at least limit it.
- Therapy. With the above in mind, it’s an important time to be in therapy. Although most therapists are working by phone or video these days, there is still that intimate connection that can exist between client and therapist. There is still that possibility of being understood in that intimate way and feeling that person is there for you. In that way, not feeling so alone.
So just some ideas about how we can preserve our mental health during this time of extreme stress. May everyone stay safe and healthy.