Prioritizing Our Mental Health Amidst a Pandemic

Mental health has really taken precedence this year. A subject often regarded as taboo or something to be kept private, all of a sudden, we’re opening up about our mental states with practically everyone. Why? Because for the first time in a century, the entire globe is facing a crisis together.

We have good days and bad days. Some of us have a hard time sleeping at night or focusing while working from home. Others can’t stop reaching for comfort foods, while others still don’t have much of an appetite. We’re dealing with job loss, homeschooling, economic stress and worse, the loss of loved ones. In one way or another, we’re all feeling off – overwhelmed by the changes 2020 has brought and the unknowns still before us. Whether we like to admit it or not, we seem to be suffering from varying levels of depression or anxiety, most likely a combination of both.

According to a health poll published in July, nearly 53% of Americans are experiencing worry or stress as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak.1 We’d like to say that we typically take pretty good care of our minds and bodies – through eating healthy, practicing meditation and yoga, walking in nature and exercising, striving for daily balance and focusing on the now. But with the added concerns COVID-19 has brought into our lives, we’ve fallen into unknown territory. Following are a few practices we’re trying to maintain, to prioritize our mental wellbeing and help sustain ourselves and our loved ones in the months to come.

The Uncertain Future

There is conflicting data when it comes to public policy and health surrounding the Coronavirus. Our minds are awash with fears – wondering if we’ll contract the virus (or spread it to others), how long it will take to find a vaccine (and if we’ll be able to trust it), and when our lives will return to normal (or whether there will ever be a “normal” again). It’s unclear what the future holds, and that ever-present uncertainty is fodder for emotional disruption. We’re lying awake at night or getting distracted by day, ruminating about how exactly we'll get through this and what it will look like when it’s over.

Checking In With Ourselves

It’s important not to ignore what’s going on inside and instead, take mental notes of our soothing habits and how we’re truly feeling. Hopelessness and depression can be exacerbated by toxic positivity. In other words, if we’re not ok, it’s important to say so instead of pretending like everything is fine. If we’re passing up social opportunities, sleeping more or starting to fall prey to unhealthy habits, inquire as to why. Even though it’s challenging to attend to these feelings in the present, it’s better to do so than push them down only to have them emerge later. Take time to reflect both on what’s hard and also what’s still good. Journal or write down a few lines of gratitude each day. While these actions may be easier said than done, they are steps in the right direction toward easing mental strain.

Checking in With Others

Acknowledging depression and asking how our loved ones are really feeling is key. Taking time to truly listen to those around us can do wonders to help offset loneliness and promote meaningful connections. Even if we cannot help those in our lives directly, we can be present and if needed, guide them towards something or someone who can. Thoughtful communication and compassion are profound in the face of trauma. Giving someone the space to express themselves, free of judgment or analysis, can make all the difference in the world. Even from a distance, making eye contact, asking follow-up questions and sharing our concerns are simple and effective ways of encouraging healthy dialogue and purging painful thoughts. 

Enhancing Our Well-Being

There’s no perfect formula for mental clarity and wellness (especially during a year like this!), but prioritizing self-care routines can definitely help – like reading an inspiring book, drinking lots of water, getting a good amount sleep, moving our bodies, and shifting our eating habits. Consider setting small goals each day or ideating new healthy habits to adopt during the pandemic. Indulge in relaxing rituals – long baths, walks in nature, FaceTime calls with distant family. The more we can incorporate positivity into our daily routines, the healthier and happier our minds and bodies will be.2

Seeking Help

Uncertain times mean navigating changes in our lives that we can’t control. It means learning how to do things differently, even reaching out for professional help when necessary. Knowing how to ask for what we need is part of being resilient, not a sign of weakness or failure. No shame! Depression and anxiety thrive on social isolation and disruption of routine, and therapists or counselors can provide us with tools to help us navigate these uncertain times. Even if we’re experiencing financial strains – which most of us are – many therapists will work on a sliding scale.

One of the most powerful ways to support our mental health is to lean into community. While the circumstances of our lives may vary, we are all in this together, and with the universality of experience comes the universality of empathy. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and open with those around us can infuse our days with meaningful connection and be the difference between feeling alone vs. supported, anxious vs. understood, despondent vs. hopeful.

“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” Aristotle