These last few months have been like walking through a fog. The world has shut down. Blurry memories now haunt the streets while basked in a tainted, hazy daylight. After Covid-19 happened, it’s like we’ve all gotten swept up in a whirlwind of jigsaw emotions. Our brains have been rattled and our sanity has been pushed to the limits. This global pandemic could very well define the decade (perhaps even the century) and though we’ve endured so much, it still feels as though the dawn is far beyond the horizon. We are worn and weary.
Personally, I have been drowning in a sea of emotions that I have been struggling to even name. I know that the dawn is coming but some days are still a struggle. My mind is exhausted from balancing itself atop this seemingly endless tightrope. I have learned a lot about myself and I am managing.
This is a guide of what has helped me to better manage my mental health and pull myself through these bleak times. Every day, little by little, it gets easier.
Limit Your Media Consumption
Remember that old phrase, “curiosity killed the cat”?
We want to stay informed and we want to know what’s happening in the world. Curiosity is a natural part of humanity, but there is a balance that we all need to establish when it comes to media consumption. There are places to go to find information necessary to keep ourselves safe (ie. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention) and then there are places to go where all we’ll find is fear mongering, propaganda spreading, and permeating misinformation. We need to find a balance between how much media we consume and from what sources we get our news from.
I came to recognize that regardless of whether the news I consumed was factual or fictional, it all weighed unnecessarily heavily on my heart. I felt I was hooked up to an IV needle dripping statistical poison into my bloodstream. It was driving me mad and I spent countless days cowering in bed, frozen in fear and covered in a steel blanket of depression that would not let me move or function for days.
Part of managing our mental health during this time is recognizing our triggers and understanding when it’s time to let our minds rest. Do not turn on the news every five minutes. All that will do is remind us of all the things that are beyond our control. We will feel overwhelmed and the day will take on a melancholic tone. Instead, let’s recognize our limits and work within them to learn what is essential (what we need to know). Everything else on the news, just let it all go.
Find a Constructive Way to Spend Your Time
Remember that other old phrase, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop”?
Every day we have to work on ourselves. We can start small and then we can work our way to being able to recognize that we are worth the effort needed to keep persevering through all of this. Focus on a hobby, something you are passionate about. We all are in dire need of a hobby right now and if you specifically do not have a hobby GET A HOBBY (Follow this link for a list of hobby suggestions that you could consider trying- especially applicable to travelers and expats). Our hobbies don’t have to be things that focus on developing ourselves in a marketable way. They can be about doing something every day, regardless of how small, that brings us a semblance of joy. Let’s explore ourselves. This is the best time for us to learn about our interests and to delve into all of the things that have fascinated us over the course of our lives. We should throw ourselves into whatever it is we love in whatever ways are most practical for us. When our days are filled with things that we enjoy and we distract our minds from all the chaos ensnaring the world, we will find our mental states balancing themselves until they become manageable again.
We also have to acknowledge that there will be days that are just absolutely awful and we may struggle to keep a grasp on our sanity on these days. This is okay. With everything we do, we must do it with grace especially for ourselves. Life is a pendulum. Sometimes an outside force may push the pendulum further up on one side or the other, but at some point it will swing back down and reestablish a balance for itself again. We are our own pendulums and we will find balance. It may take a little effort on our part but we will persevere. To be human is to be resilient.
Support Your Supports
Live each day in accordance with this phrase, “no one has ever become poor by giving”.
Everyone is handling this pandemic differently. Remember to give. Give kindness. Give compassion. Give empathy. Give grace to everyone – including yourself. We have all undergone some level of difficulty during this time. It’s imperative that we set respectful, yet stern boundaries with the people in our lives and communicate our needs effectively. Some of us may need more space so that we can sit focused and process everything that’s going on. Others of us may need more emotional support and will reach out more than they have before. Keep in mind that the social norms and rule books that we have abided by in the past have essentially been chucked out the window. Many of us are floundering in this uncertainty. Please, we must practice patience and kindness as often as we are able to.
In order to offer support to those we love, we first need to assess ourselves. Afterwards, we can then seek for and provide the necessary support that we need. Every day, let’s take a few minutes and sit with our emotions. We need to check-in on ourselves and evaluate how we are doing.
If you are someone who needs space, find it. If you are in need of emotional support from a loved one, reach out if you can. If reaching out is too much of a struggle for you, seek support in whatever else brings you joy or peace.
We can only offer of ourselves what we have. If we are feeling depleted and run-down, we need to set the necessary boundaries so that we can replenish ourselves. Most everyone should be able to understand that in these unusual times, people will act unusually. Above all else, always default to kindness. Let’s not be the cause of even more unnecessary suffering, especially amongst our loved ones.
Develop A Safety Plan
Remember that, “planning is everything, the plan is nothing.”
With some places now starting to relax their stay-at-home orders, it is crucial for us to have a comprehensive and well thought out safety plan for how we will navigate through society again. There is still so much concern and anxiety around what to do, where to go, and how to stay safe. Many of us still don’t fully know what this reopening process will look like, so we must rely on ourselves to use our own judgement and plan for our own safety.
In this planning process, let’s first explore how we feel. We need to acknowledge our triggers and concerns, perhaps write them down to make them more tangibly workable and then create a plan that addresses each concern adequately. Once we’ve written down our triggers and concerns and have now planned strategies to manage them, our next step is to enact our plans. Remember to make changes where necessary, but try to remain consistent.
Where will I keep my cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer? What’s the best system for navigating the isles at the grocery store? Can I condense my list so that I can get everything at one place? Do I sanitize everything before I leave work or after I get home? Do I change my clothes and wash them as soon as I get home? If I get sick, how do I manage that? How much does my health insurance really cover? Etc.
After the city-wide shut down was enacted, I remember the first time I left for the grocery store. I panicked and left immediately without buying any of the things I needed. I was concerned after I saw how some of the other shoppers were not following safety guidelines and after seeing what appeared as disorder to me, in a time when orderliness seemed so imperative, I struggled to process it.
In these times of reopening, we have to recognize that not everyone is going to feel the same way about safety precautions as we do. Remember that all we can control is ourselves and our best bet is to plan and prepare as fully as we can. Expect the unexpected and remember to breathe.
Create Your Own New Normal
No matter how dim the path forward may be, “smile, breathe, and go slowly.”
We need a routine. A consistent, predictable and reliable routine will bring so much peace. It’s horribly easy to fall into a wandering state of twilight. Though, it’s painstakingly difficult to navigate our way out from within the grasp of its haze. Again, this is something that can be catered to best benefit ourselves. Maybe we need to start a little vague. Give ourselves room to breathe and adjust. Practice kindness always. We will have bad days. We will have good days. We do not have to be defined by the day.
Build external reminders. Before the stay at home order, I had conditioned myself to stop in the bathroom to brush my teeth before work everyday. Now that I’m no longer working and rarely ever leaving the house, that reminder to brush my teeth got severed from my routine. I had to reevaluate my day and build into it a new anchor for myself.
Once we’ve created a new normal for ourselves, our brains can take a break, step down from overdrive and relax a bit. Knowing what happens next in our day will alleviate some of our anxieties and can keep us grounded. Anxiety can feel like a hot air balloon that is climbing up into the sky and crashing down to the ground at the same time. A consistent routine can act as a stabilizer and allows us to gather our bearings once the chaos of the ride has subsided. While establishing a routine, we can cater it to best suit our own unique quirks and traits. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll learn new and better coping strategies that we can keep with us even after the world resets to stable.
We are wading in the unknown. It will take a while for us to come to know this unknown as the place that is our own. For now, the dark of night may still seem thick but the light of dawn is growing. We are still struggling. I am still struggling. But we will prevail and we will thrive. Metal health can be a challenge to manage and some of us may still feel like we’re drowning. Nevertheless, as sure as the sun always rises over the horizon each day, we will find solid ground beneath our feet. This world, in all its beauty and all its chaos, is ours. Remember that we are glorious, powerful and in every sense of the word: Miraculous. We will continue to press on and survive. It’s all we have ever known and we are damn good at it. We’ve got this!
You’ve got this!