Pandemic Mental Health Survival Guide
Updated: Dec 13, 2020
This is year has been incredibly tough on all of us due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our lives have been uprooted, it has been more challenging to connect with loved ones, and our daily routines have been thrown through a loop. For some, this experience comes with a sense of loss, confusion, and even tragedy in certain cases.
I hear all the time from my clients about how this experience influences them to feel a sense of learned helplessness and emotional numbness, almost a feeling of depersonalization or dissociation. For example, I have heard many people often ask themselves, "is this really happening?" "what was my life like before this began?", or the all too common "what day is it?" as our sense of time melds together.
When I hear everything mentioned above, I remind myself and others that what we are all going through is a collective trauma. This means that we are all processing a trauma together, on an individual, communal, and societal basis.
Now to look on the bright side, since we can label coping with the pandemic as a trauma, there are tangible & helpful tools we can practice to help ourselves cope in a more healthy way. I share these tips during my day job and in the SMART program, so I hope this can be helpful to you all on here as well:
Process Emotions via Reflecting on Your Grief
When we go through any trauma, we might feel flooded with conflicting or similar emotions. This "flooding" can either overwhelm us in experiencing emotional reactivity (when we typically take our emotions out on others or ourselves in a non constructive way) and/or dissociation as mentioned earlier in this blog post (feeling emotional blunting or numbness, even detached from your feeling and thoughts along with the world around you).
These symptoms can be reduced via processing these emotions, or in more simple terms, checking in with yourself. A trick to do this more easily in daily life is to think about your reaction to the pandemic as synonymous to the stages of grief and label them. When we boil it down, the pandemic is influencing some of us to grieve our "normal lives" prior to this trauma.
The stages of grief are the following *Please note that the stages do not have to happen in this order*:
By labeling our emotions and asking ourselves, "which stage do I feel like I am in today or in this moment?" We can increase our awareness of how our emotions can impact our thoughts and behaviors, or vise versa. With awareness comes action, so beginning to start to label where you might be in the stages of grief during the pandemic can help us achieve a sense of validation and help us recognize when we should indulge in self-care.
Tip: We can process emotions and reflect on our stage of grief in various creative ways. This could include "checking in with yourself" while journaling, listening to music, looking at photos, meditating, walking, talking with someone you trust etc. So, you can process emotions and do self-care at the same time!
2. Achieving Gratitude
In the post above, we focused on how our emotional reactions to the pandemic can be paralleled with the 5 stages of grief. If we feel paralyzed by our grief, (when it hinders our ability to function and to do self-care) we can offset this with gratitude.
In my experience both personally and professionally, gratitude could be perceived as the opposite of grief. By gently reminding ourselves what we are thankful in life versus what we are missing, it can give us a much needed resiliency and spirit boost.
Feeling grateful does not necessarily have to include large events, especially when we are experiencing the pandemic or any valid trauma. Gratitude can include anything, even smaller seeming "mundane" topics, such as feeling grateful for the smell of fresh clean laundry, the sun coming out after a cloudy day, or drinking your favorite cup of coffee.
Tip: Keeping a gratitude journal has helped a lot of my clients keep their grief in check during the pandemic. It does not have to be fancy, it could be a few bullet points per day or week. I also recommend the app "The 5 Minute Journal" to explore for more guidance with this.
3. Setting Attainable Self-Care Goals to Look Forward to Something
It is quite obvious in my eyes that there is no drawback to self-care, especially during this year.
Self-care is crucial for reducing stress and emotional burnout. Similar to gratitude mentioned above, self-care can be anything depending on the person. It is an activity or action that you look forward to that brings you joy, relaxation, and even a sense of accomplishment.
During the pandemic, we have been mourning the losses of self-care or events we were looking forward to. This could be missing the traditional holiday season, not attending weddings, foregoing vacations, not seeing friends or family as much etc.
Therefore, it is now up to us to recognize that even though a large part of the pandemic is out of our control, we can control how we react to it.
We can do this by setting self-care goals, even smaller ones, to help us cultivate a sense of looking forward to something that brings us joy. This could include setting a goal to look forward to something each day, week, month, or even season. Examples of this I hear quite often are: cooking your favorite meal, having weekly virtual hangouts with friends, reading a book before bedtime, or taking a hot bath on cold nights. The list and possibilities are endless.
Tip: Some set self-care goals to also to keep track of their perception of time during the pandemic. To promote stress management & to reduce the feeling of how days feel like they blending in together, you can set dates to correlate with your self-care. For example, having "Mindful Mondays", "Self-Care Sundays", "Take-Out Tuesdays"etc.
4. Mindful Washing Hands
Washing hands during the pandemic is a behavior we have been doing more often this year to keep us safe. Even though this practice is crucial, it can be emotionally triggering for some people. It can trigger us to remind ourselves of the reality of the pandemic, which can lead to us having a stress response.
But, why not make a safety behavior an excuse to practice relaxation?
In the SMART program, I review how mindfulness can be practiced anywhere or at anytime. The first step to cultivate this idea of mindful awareness is to notice your 5 senses (touch, smell, taste, hearing, seeing), which helps us experience our relaxation response.
The next time you wash your hands for 20 seconds, feel free to take a few extra moments to hear the sound of the water coming out of the faucet, the smell of the soap, the feeling of your hands rubbing together etc, and see how you feel after. You might surprise yourself how calm you might feel.
This exercise can be helpful to anyone, but I have also been told it has been helpful for frontline workers trying to take a breather in-between patients.
Tip: On The Mind Shrine Youtube channel, I posted an example of mindful washing hands if that is helpful! Feel free to check out the links on the homepage of this website or look below:
Conclusion: Thank you for reading! We are all in this together. Of course, if you feel like you would like more tips, do not hesitate to reach out to me for continued support or if you have any questions.