Job loss, financial concerns, your children’s education, fear of sickness, concern for loved ones, and isolation are just a few of the many factors impacting us during this pandemic and uncertain time in our nation. It is very normal to experience increased anxiety, depression, and irritability during stressful times. Here are some things to practice in order to keep healthy mentally, emotionally, and relationally…
The most important tool we have is our self-talk. We have the power to change our mood by changing the way we speak to ourselves. The first step in keeping our internal peace during a difficult time is to acknowledge that this is happening, it is out of my control, and it is temporary. Acceptance is essential for our mental well-being. Our natural reaction to a negative event or circumstance is to be in shock and denial or even become resistant to believing what is happening. This natural reaction can lead to negative self-talk and irritability, negative thoughts and emotions, and avoidance. Once we clearly accept the situation, it allows our brain to focus on what we CAN do instead of what we can’t.
Balanced self-care includes a healthy diet, exercise, sleep, spiritual practices, fun, hobbies, and connecting with family and friends. It is important to use online video services and facetime to keep as many of our weekly groups, hobbies, and other meetings going as well as staying connected to friends and loved ones. And please don’t forget to intentionally make time for fun like watching a funny movie, playing with your pets, playing games, creating something through art or writing, anything that can bring a smile or create some joyful moments.
We especially have to take care of ourselves physically and spiritually if we are going to maintain a healthy mind and mood during a challenging time. Exercise decreases stress and improves your mood because your body releases the feel-good chemicals dopamine and endorphins in the brain. Another benefit of exercise is increased energy during the day which helps you sleep better at night. Research indicates that exercise keeps your muscles and bones healthy and strong, promotes growth of new brain cells called neurons, and increases the quality and longevity of life. We have to exercise so think of ways to make it fun and productive as a family while you are home like dancing together, taking a walk, doing an exercise video, jumping in the pool, or cleaning out the garage.
In addition to exercise, giving attention to our spirituality and faith practices is essential to maintaining a health mind and mood. Think of ways to get some quiet time for yourself to practice meditation, reading your Bible, or praying. Get the family together as you normally would and watch your church service online, perhaps have a time of singing or getting creative to find ways to practice your spiritual beliefs and rituals.
During times of uncertainty, loss, and fear, it can difficult to find things to be thankful for in our situation. Research indicates that practicing gratitude decreases depression and increases happiness and helps people deal with adversity. Think of practicing gratitude for the past, present, and future. For example, reflecting on past memories and experiences of successes and blessings, or thinking about other difficult situations and circumstances that you survived and overcame, perhaps lessons you learned that can help you today. Then focusing on acknowledging your current blessings such as good health, having people who love you, the tangible and non-tangible ways you are blessed. Keeping an optimistic attitude is a way to practice gratitude focused on the future. Perhaps express gratitude in words or writing or gifts to someone you appreciate. Gratitude is a way to acknowledge the goodness in our lives.
When we do something for someone else, the benefits are very similar to exercise like lowering our blood pressure, reducing physical pain, reducing depression symptoms, increasing mood and quality of life. It just feels good to know we helped someone else. Think about calling and chatting for a while with someone you know who lives alone. What about making a meal or special dessert for your neighbor or mailing a hand-written note to someone telling them how much you appreciate them. Perhaps the best way to help others is to simply show kindness. A kind word or deed may actually last much longer than any tangible gift we can give and will also lift our spirits as well as the person we are showing kindness to.
Managing Anxiety and Depression Symptoms
Practicing acceptance, self-care, gratitude, and helping others are all ways to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. When you are feeling anxious, notice your senses to calm down your brain and nervous system. For example, focus on looking at something with color in the room and smell a fruit, lotion, or candle. Listen to music or the quiet in the room and feel the chair you are sitting in or the clothing you are wearing. In addition, breath in your nose counting to 7, hold your breath for a count of 4 then out your mouth counting to 7. Paying attention to your senses and deep breathing will reduce anxiety in the immediate moment significantly. To manage feelings of depression, try to keep a daily schedule. Plan out your day at home with regular time to get up in the morning and going to sleep at night, plan hours you will work, exercise, play, etc. Structure and consistency will help keep you from clinical depression. Remember to be gracious to yourself during challenging times because experiencing anxiety and negative feelings is very normal.
Dr. Hollenbeck is a Certified Telemental Health Therapist and offers clients video and phone sessions. Please call or text 407.408.6521 to schedule an appointment.