There have been several experiences in my personal and professional life that have taught me how resilient and strong people really are. I've worked in Wilderness Therapy with at risk youth, spending 8 days at a time in the back country facing wild weather and wild animals with teens struggling with significant issues. I've had personal and family traumas that have showed me just how much we can overcome. And I've volunteered as a Disaster Mental Health responder with the American Red Cross after natural disasters. I've stood next to people in the tornado ravaged rumble of their home as they tried to pick up the pieces, I’ve talked to a mother who held her small child in her bathtub as the roof was torn off her home, and I’ve sat in hospitals with families grieving loved ones lost. I’ve seen how individuals cope in crisis and after a disaster and I’m seeing connections in how people are responding to COVID-19. People are reacting normally to abnormal events. In this case we are trying to cope with a continuously unfolding disaster that we can’t predict what the toll will ultimately be.
So many of us are feeling the weight of this global pandemic that has now reached our little corner of the US. It’s one thing to watch an event unfold across the globe and it’s another to have it land in your own community. Both can be stressful and scary in different ways and many of us have been watching this unfold for weeks and are experiencing fatigue already. Just as it’s important to take care of your physical health during this time, your mental health and wellness are equally important. And, much like the world we live in, we humans are a mass of connected systems all interconnected and affecting each other. Our stress and mental health impacts our immune system and physical body and vice versa our physical body is hugely connected to mental health.
There's much we can do for ourselves and others to mitigate the long term negative affects of situations such as our current global crisis.
Remember that fear and anxiety are normal reactions to what is happening right now. You are a human reacting normally to abnormal events. Our emotions exist to motivate us to react for self preservation and protection of those we love. The key is staying in a realm of healthy and functional anxiety versus panic. Think, test anxiety motivating you to adequately study versus rendering you immobile and unable to prepare. To learn more about the purpose of emotions, check out this blog post.
It’s normal to experience fear and anxiety. Symptoms like difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, changes in appetite and mood, irritability, withdrawal, and high risk behavior can all be signs of a stress response. Taking action can help. We know that in traumatic situations, those who can do something about their circumstances experience lower rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder than those who cannot.
Go easy on yourself.
It’s important to focus on the facts in these situations. Dig deep and remain calm while taking active precautionary measures to keep yourself and your loved ones safe and cared for. We don’t know what will happen yet so staying grounded in what’s happening now can be helpful.
Here’s some other ways to take care of yourself emotionally in times like these:
Stay connected. We are social creatures and loneliness was already an epidemic. It’ll be important to remain connected to supports and loved ones. Often shame, embarrassment, and fear of burdening others can stop us from reaching out. Stretch your comfort zone and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Those who you reach out to will also benefit from this connection. Utilize any type of connection available to you, use facetime and video chat, make phone calls, write letters, and send text messages. Practice social distancing but make the most of opportunities to connect in person. Make eye contact and have genuine conversations. Find opportunities for giving and charity. We are in this together. Whether it’s as small an act as having more patience to donating goods or money. Look for opportunities to help where you can.
Make yourself a priority too. If you are a caregiver, take care of your own needs, as well as those who depend on you will be important to avoid burnout. You can’t help others if you have no fuel left in the tank. Take reasonable steps to care for yourself.
Manage stress and anxiety. Reduce over exposure to media, meditate or do other quiet and relaxing activities. Utilize coping skills or learn new ones like breathing techniques, grounding and distraction skills, thought stopping, containment, gratitude, mindfulness, and more. The internet has a wealth of information, do some research. Recognize your early warning signs of worsening stress and anxiety and act early. We will be putting together some additional resources to share with you about coping.
Get help. Find a therapist who is doing telehealth (we all are right now!). Virago Wellness will be offering telehealth services and we have an intern available to support those without insurance and who can’t afford the full cost of therapy.
Take care of your body. You know the “wash your hands, don’t touch your face” bit. In addition to that, move your body in whatever way is available to you. Go for walks, do yoga or calisthenics like push ups, squats, and burpees, get outside if you can, fresh air helps. Stay hydrated and eat well. Get sleep as best you can and stay rested.
Emergencies such as these require more of us. Do what you can with what you’ve got and be kind to yourself. You are smarter than you know and stronger than you think. Above all, trust your gut and do what you feel is right for you and yours.