In some countries like New Zealand, life is beginning to return to normal. After strict quarantine rules and a timely, effective response to the COVID-19 outbreak, citizens can get back to work and go outdoors with less fear of getting ill. In other places, that’s not the case. Thousands of new cases are confirmed in the U.S. everyday even as businesses reopen and some workers are encouraged to stop working from home.
People around the world may be living in unique or differing circumstances, but there’s a common thread for many: anxiety about what comes next. Some find themselves worrying over their region’s coronavirus response, and just as many worry over transitioning from calmer times with fewer Google Calendar alerts to a more “normal” level of social interaction and responsibilities.
Both present unique obstacles. After all, nobody should have to fear their health is in jeopardy and nobody wants others to get sick. But social distancing has also offered a slower time to become more mindful, take charge of our own schedules and disconnect from busy social schedules. Giving that up can feel just as stressful. This Mental Health Awareness Month, there are more reasons than ever to focus on mental health care.
It Can Happen To Anyone
It’s valid and understandable to be afraid, nervous or stressed out, regardless of why. The CDC reported that the outbreak is stressful for most people, and that everyone will react differently. This makes it incredibly important to be mindful of our mental health and state of mind. The more aware we are of how we’re feeling, the more likely we are to prevent our feelings and anxiety from spinning out of control.
Downward spirals happen from time to time, bringing negative thoughts, depression and other mental health obstacles. Preventing or treating thought processes isn’t easy, and for some it’s a battle fought consistently, over and over. However, there are steps you can take to feel a little better, and over time developing these tools into a routine can help prevent downward spirals in the first place.
Know The Warning Signs
Whether you have a consistent or diagnosed mental illness or are struggling with temporary mental health and wellness issues, know the warning signs of a downward mental health spiral and a lack of mindfulness. They may include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Lack of energy and fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling more emotional, such as crying or feeling afraid more often
- Cancelling plans with people we love
- Lack of excitement for hobbies or fun activities we enjoy
If you begin to notice these behaviors or feelings, it might indicate your mental health and well-being is taking a toll. Preventative measures are important to ensure your body and mind are cared for.
Prevent The Spiral
Getting ahead of a health crisis is important, and it may be extremely common for thousands of Americans in the coming months, according to experts. Here are some ways to get ahead of your own negative thoughts and introduce daily mental health care.
Stay connected. Physical distancing is much different than social distancing, and the WHO recently revised its guidelines to encourage people to stay connected to loved ones. Video calls may feel overwhelming, but plain old phone calls and text messages are still there. You can also connect with friends online through hobbies like gaming, streaming, or watching movies together.
Physical self-care. It can feel like the last thing on your to-do list, but physical well-being directly impacts your mental well-being. Find activities that keep you active, whether it’s walking the dog or living room yoga. Encourage yourself to eat as well as you can. You could experiment with cooking new dishes or ordering takeout from a new health food restaurant.
Take breaks. Being home alone, without distractions like coworkers, phone calls or daily meetings, can boost our productivity. But that doesn’t mean we have to work all the time! Be sure to take breaks for creativity, fun and pleasure. This will keep you happy and mentally well.
Create a mental health safety plan. A safety plan is your mental health first aid kit. By creating one, you’ll have a safety net in case things get worse, and it will be much easier to take the steps, because they’ll already be decided for you. Read more about what goes into a mental health safety plan here.
But I’m Already There
It’s possible you’ve already gotten pretty far down that spiral, and that’s okay. It’s normal and understandable. If you feel like you’ve succumbed to depression, anxiety or are feeling less than mindful, there are dozens of resources available. During Mental Health Awareness Month, they’re also highlighted online and through mental health organizations. Here are some ways to climb out of the rut you may be in:
Call the suicide prevention hotline. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideations, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans experience these thoughts. You can bounce back, and there are experts waiting to help you. Give the suicide prevention hotine a call as quickly as you can at 1-800-273-8255.
Try teletherapy. Many therapists are offering online sessions via Zoom and Google Meet, and there are dozens of new therapy apps that allow you to text a therapist, removing the pressure to meet face-to-face. While therapy isn’t going to be accessible to everyone, there’s no shame in seeking help.
Enact your safety plan. If you’re feeling scared, lonely or down, it’s time to review your mental health safety plan. This is exactly why you created it. Mental health safety plans tell you exactly how to react and help yourself based on how you’re feeling, so you don’t need to worry about making all the decisions. They’re already made for you, and will help you feel better and more secure.
Mental Health Awareness Month is a great time to take stock. How are you feeling? How mindful are you? What can you do when you’re feeling bad, and how can you prevent it from getting worse? Let’s face the truth—the next few months are going to be hard, and as the world continues to work through the COVID-19 response, it’s okay to feel stressed or upset. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t help yourself, or that you deserve to feel bad.
You shouldn’t feel guilty for taking care of yourself and feeling at peace. Mental health and well-being shouldn’t only be a priority this month. It’s important every day, and you deserve the benefits.