By Robyn Sarette
No one likes the feeling of uncertainty. As humans, we want to know what to expect at any given moment so that we can prepare for what’s coming. If we feel threatened, our DNA gives us the age-old feeling to fight or take flight; but in today’s modern world, this feeling of insecurity can generate stress. Stress, while there to protect us, can cause all sorts of havoc within our bodies and our minds.
Not being able to control something when we want to is a major cause factor for anxiety. And that something right now is COVID-19, more commonly known as coronavirus. This pandemic is a big part of our lives right now and the uncertainty from day to day, minute to minute, gives us a feeling of helplessness. These feelings of uncertainty or helplessness stemming from the pandemic, can lead to thoughts of other uncertainties in our lives. The feeling of not being prepared to be able to protect ourselves, families, and friends.
This pandemic has had its ups and downs for me. At first, I’ll admit it, I bought a lot of toilet paper – I saw everyone else buying it and didn’t want to be the one who didn’t have any. I didn’t see the big deal as to why everyone was buying all the toilet paper yet. Whether it’s the delay of the start of your favorite sport’s season, your schooling suddenly becoming entirely online, a travel ban for your spring break, or the cancelation of a convention that you were so looking forward to, there was something that made this pandemic real for you. There was a moment after you heard or read something that made your heart sink and you thought to yourself, this is real - and what can I do to protect myself? That moment for me was when Disney announced the closure of their domestic theme parks, Disneyland and Walt Disney World. I saw them close the Asian parks and thought to myself, those are partially owned by their respective governments, they’ll never do that here. And they did, and I knew this was a big deal, and I was scared (and relieved that I had a lot of toilet paper). The next thing I knew I was working from home and I haven't worn makeup in 5 days. But I remind myself that this won't be forever and remember to breathe.
With this pandemic, it is important to recognize if or when your mental health is suffering. We don’t always know it is happening. You may feel more angry, on edge, or sad. You may start to become irritated at others easily or want to avoid anyone all together. For those who already struggle with their mental wellness, you may feel more depressed or less motivated. Because the pandemic is flooding our news, social media accounts, conversations, etc., you may welcome the isolation. But remember to reach out to your friends and family, maybe someone you don’t normally text every day, and talk with someone. Socialization is a big part of our mental health so even though we are doing our part of social distancing by being at home doing puzzles, make some time to talk with the people you love.
It is more important than anything to know that you are not helpless in this fight. You can choose your response. If you are struggling, here are some things that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention recommends you can do to take care of your mental health during this turbulent time:
Separate what is in your control from what is not. There are things you can do, and it’s helpful to focus on those. Wash your hands. Remind others to wash theirs. Take your vitamins. Limit your consumption of news (Do you really need to know what is happening on a cruise ship you aren’t on?).
Do what helps you feel a sense of safety. This will be different for everyone, and it’s important not to compare yourself to others. It’s ok if you’ve decided what makes you feel safe is to limit attendance of large social events, but make sure you separate when you are isolating based on potential for sickness versus isolating because it’s part of depression.
Get outside in nature–even if you are avoiding crowds. I took a walk yesterday afternoon in my neighborhood with my daughter. The sun was shining, we got our dose of vitamin D, and it felt good to both get some fresh air and quality time together. Exercise also helps both your physical and mental health.
Challenge yourself to stay in the present. Perhaps your worry is compounding—you are not only thinking about what is currently happening, but also projecting into the future. When you find yourself worrying about something that hasn’t happened, gently bring yourself back to the present moment. Notice the sights, sounds, tastes and other sensory experiences in your immediate moment and name them. Engaging in mindfulness activities is one way to help stay grounded when things feel beyond your control.
Stay connected and reach out if you need more support. Talk to trusted friends about what you are feeling. If you are feeling particularly anxious or if you are struggling with your mental health, it’s ok to reach out to a mental health professional for support. You don’t have to be alone with your worry and it can be comforting to share what you are experiencing with those trained to help.
So while we are remotely learning instead of in a classroom, working from our dining room table instead of our cubicle, quarantined instead of doing anything, or even filing for unemployment… take care of each other, remember we are all in this together, wash your hands, and be well.