The pandemic has created a perfect storm for Americans who were already struggling with high levels of depression and anxiety, suicide and a loneliness epidemic that kills more people than obesity or smoking.
Constant worry about finances, health, and employment, along with added stressors such as teaching kids from home during school closures, all put a strain on our mental health. Healthcare workers face psychological trauma and burnout. Officials report an increase in domestic violence and warn of a spike in suicides.
It’s easy to feel scared, overwhelmed, and discouraged. Yet there are things we can each do to strengthen our mental health and build resilience. For May, Mental Health Awareness Month, here are three ideas:
- Practice Mind Over Moment. This is paying attention in each moment to your thoughts and feelings, recognizing and acknowledging them so you can break free of the fight-or-flight response you feel when you are emotionally triggered. For example, imagine you get an email pointing out a mistake you made from someone with whom you have a contentious relationship. Now imagine you get the same email from someone you like and trust. Compare the feelings you might experience in each case. Dealing with someone you like you might cause you to feel be curious, receptive, and appreciative, dealing with someone who pushes your buttons might leave you feeling agitated, angry, and frustrated. Which frame of reference is likely to lead to a desirable outcome? Practicing Mind Over Moment is taking the time to choose how you interpret each event or message so you can respond in a positive way.
- Stay Connected Despite Social Isolation. Humans are social creatures with emotional needs for relationships and positive connections to others. Social distance does not have to mean social isolation. You may not be able to share the same physical space, but you can stay in touch with those you care about through phone calls, emails or video conferencing. Platforms such as Zoom, FaceTime, and Skype allow us to share a connection with others that’s crucial to our health, well-being, and resilience. Check on family who live alone, reconnect with old friends, and encourage your kids to utilize technology to stay in touch with their friends, teachers, and other relatives.
- Focus on What’s Most Important to You. Researchhas proven that having purpose in life predicts both health and longevity. The ability to find meaning from life’s experiences, especially when confronting challenges, may be a mechanism underlying mental and emotional health. Resilient people possess a clear sense of meaning and purpose that enables them to stay the course even when things get tough. A sense of purpose can also strengthen your immune system, relieve stress, and even minimize pain. It’s much harder to feel defeated when you have a strong sense of purpose.
If you’ve made consistent efforts to improve your mental and emotional health and are still struggling, consider seeking professional help. Don’t wait until you or someone you love is in crisis before you ask for or offer help and support. No one can do this alone.