The current pandemic is affecting just about everyone. We’ve been separated from friends and loved ones, disconnected from many of our favorite activities, and become full-time remote employees and homeschool coaches. Many people have lost their jobs altogether, and some have lost their businesses or are in the process of doing so. Some of us have lost loved ones. And virtually all of us have lost certainty about what lies ahead. It can seem nothing short of harrowing.
While the current pandemic is unprecedented in our lifetimes, we’ve lived through other crises in the past – the 9/11 terrorist attacks, SARS, Ebola. Researchers have studied the effects of crises on mental health and emotional wellbeing. Psychology Today recently posted some topical research-based recommendations from psychologist Tracy S. Hutchinson on how to build your resilience during this pandemic and maintain emotional health.
Most of us know the basic suggestions to keep anxiety and depression from quelling – exercise and eat healthfully, create and follow daily routines, leverage communication tools to connect with others. Hutchinson’s research-based suggestions also include the following:
Limiting news consumption – including social media
Chronic news consumption may create trauma, even PTSD. In past crises, daily media exposure was correlated with increased distress and poorer functioning. Staying mentally strong means limiting news exposure and choosing reliable and responsible media channels for viewing and listening. There are likely no drastic changes occurring hour-to-hour, so checking in to trusted news sources once a day might be advisable. As to social media, we can use these channels to stay connected, seeing what friends and family are posting on Facebook, for example, while remembering that algorithms are used to give you the news you will most likely read, meaning that your page will be skewed toward your preferences. There is plenty of ‘fake news’ out there that your social media ‘friends’ may be spreading, purposely or not.
Choosing their leaders carefully
As in the first tip, it can be confusing and distressing to watch political leaders and prominent media figures as they argue, fight and misstate facts. Combative, bombastic interactions make us feel worse. During 9-11, I recall selecting one channel and one favorite broadcaster – in my case, it was Peter Jennings – who I found soothing, calming and trustworthy, even amidst the chaos and horror that the terrorist attacks provoked. See if you can find someone of strength and calm to lead your own media consumption during COVID-19.
Accepting their feelings as normal
Being resilient means understanding that emotions like fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, even sadness are normal because what we are experiencing is overwhelming and troubling. We are living through a pandemic that has fundamentally changed many aspects of our lives. These reactions are utterly normal and to be expected.
Being compassionate with themselves and their potentially reduced productivity
Lack of focus, inability to concentrate, and fighting at-times overwhelming emotions are common during crises. Many of us are familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs; recall the image of a pyramid demonstrating that higher-order needs – self-esteem, self-actualization, creativity – cannot be achieved until lower-order needs – safety, shelter, food – are completely met. When those lower-order needs feel threatened, we cannot expect to be as creative, productive and confident as we are during other times. Times like these call for us all to give ourselves a collective break while we weather this proverbial storm.
Remembering the facts
It is natural to feel emotional during this time, yet bringing facts to bear can help us move into a more rational state. Yes, there are risks of catching COVID-19, but the facts demonstrate that only a low percentage of individuals will succumb to the illness. And if you are practicing social distancing and following other CDC recommendations, you are taking important steps toward staying healthy.
Limiting toxic people
Avoiding people who bring us down – perhaps they lie, make demands, or spread gossip and negativity – is always important, but it’s especially critical now. Many of us are in a type of survival mode, and if a loved one or acquaintance is consistently and determinedly negative, constantly catastrophizing, filled with doom and gloom, now might be a good time to take a break from them. It’s difficult to take a break from people we care about, but this is no time to expose ourselves to persistent negativity.
Focusing on self-care based on their personality needs/types
If we are introverted, heavy socializing can be draining, and we might do best with small virtual gatherings and plenty time alone, focusing on our internal states, reading, creating art, gardening. Extroverts will need to find ways to garner energy from interacting with others, spending more time connecting through online social events. Also, many people swear by meditation; those of us who cannot meditate can still find mental solace in soothing activities like walks outside.
If this time of forced togetherness is making you feel more anxious or depressed than usual, or if you’re struggling with your mental health in other ways, please know that resources are available, and we can help. Please feel free to visit us at www.namiccns.org. We offer a multitude of resources and support groups for anyone who needs them. Our services are always free.