Raise your hand (or a glass) if you have a brain? Mental health matters to everyone. In the same way, we can’t ignore our bodies indefinitely and expect to be healthy, the same goes for our minds which need TLC too. This pandemic is doing a number on us, and our minds haven’t been spared. Social isolation and uncertainty are hard.
Let's get the basics down first.
Factors Affecting Mental Health:
Socioeconomic status (where you live, if you have access to shelter, your employment status)
The relationships around you (and how they make you feel)
Neurotransmitters (HELLLOOO serotonin and dopamine)
Other health issues such as chronic pain
Moral of the story: like other aspects of health, mental health depends on how we treat ourselves, but also depends on things out of our control, for example an unexpected pandemic causing us to be confined to our homes). Simply having access to a safe home, employment, healthy/supportive relationships, and the funds to access mental health care is a privilege, and self-care is truly a luxury.
Mental health promoting practices
Think: improving your baseline.
Adequate, quality sleep
Counselling (no need to wait until we feel like crap)
Doing our best to ensure that the relationships we are in are energy giving and not draining (we recognize healthy, safe relationships are also a luxury)
Goal-setting, and celebration upon achievement
Work-life balance (easier said than done but ALWAYS something to work towards)
Substance use in moderation
Coping Strategies in Isolation: Breaking out of Pandemic Panic
Recognising what is within your control: You are staying home, practicing social distancing, and working from home because that’s what is keeping you and those you love safe. Strategies include: limiting news intake, viewing essential practices such as hand-washing as maintaining control, and investing in philanthropy if feasible (small donations or signing petitions can be equally useful).
Sweat it out: physical activity can be particularly useful in overcoming anxiety or stress since its benefits are multidimensional in nature. For one, it is effective in diverting your attention from stress to exercise. Also, exercise increases neurotransmitters such as serotonin and controls a structure at the front of the brain called the amygdala which is responsible for our reaction for perceived or real threats we encounter in our lives.
Breathing exercises, such as square (box) breathing can be successful in diverting your attention and remove you from feeling like you either need to fly or fight (regulating your autonomic nervous system). Think: breathe in for four, hold for four, breathe out for four.
Talk About It: Sometimes you can’t get over it, around it, or under it, you have to go through it. Having a set of trustworthy friends and family you can reach out to discuss your pandemic feelings goes a long way. However, Diem is a proponent for professional help, and checking in regularly with a counsellor can do wonders for your baseline mental health status.