5 Ways to Boost Your Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic
May is Mental Health Month, and in light of the current state of the world, the timing couldn’t be better. Strong mental health is more than just the absence of mental illness; it is our mental well-being.
During this time of global uncertainty and instability, we have to make a concerted effort to protect our mental health because there are so many ways that life during a pandemic takes a toll on our emotional well-being.
“We are most vulnerable in times like these. It is also where resilience is built.”
In communities across the country, families are facing the challenges arising from this pandemic with stressors that are as unique to each individual as they are universal in their impact. Finances, illness, loneliness, unemployment, and home-schooling (just to name a few) put a strain on our mental health. We are most vulnerable in times like these. It is also where resilience is built.
Life has just given you an opportunity to get stronger – don’t waste it. This is the time to focus on your mental health, well-being, and resilience.
Here are 5 ways to boost your mental health during COVID-19:
#1 – PHYSICAL DISTANCE AND SOCIAL CONNECTION
Humans are social creatures with emotional needs for relationships and positive connections to others. Our social brains crave companionship. We are not meant to survive, let alone thrive, in isolation. Studies have found that loneliness is toxic—in fact, it has the same effect on our bodies as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.
During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, depression and anxiety have increased dramatically, in large part due to social distancing. It is easy to forget that social distance does not have to mean social isolation.
This is the time to connect and build relationships. You may not be able to share the same physical space, but virtual video connection is the next best thing. Check on family who live alone, reconnect with old friends, and encourage your kids to utilize technology to stay connected.
We feed off of the body language of others, so platforms like Zoom, FaceTime, and Skype that allow us to “see” those who are most important to us provides the happiness boost from connection with others that is crucial to our health and mental well-being, and a key element to building resilience.
Stay physically distant but socially connected. Take time to reach out to someone this week who may need a word of encouragement.
We are stronger together.
#2 – OFFER SUPPORT, NOT JUDGMENT
Depression isn’t just sadness and anxiety is not something to be taken lightly. Mental illness is not a choice, but because you can’t always “see” it, it’s easy to overlook.
It’s also easy to get angry with the people in our lives who suffer from mental illness. They can be irritable, forgetful, irrational, and difficult. Mental illness is isolating, overwhelming, and scary. Rather than passing judgment, try to understand, empathize, and offer support.
Two weeks ago, I interviewed my dear friend Karen Ranus, who is the Executive Director of NAMI Central Texas, on Facebook Live. She’s also a mom inspired and challenged by heartbreak to play an active role in changing the way we address mental health.
We talked about our daughters, hers graduating from college, mine graduating from high school, and the extreme disappointment they feel as they miss experiences they have prepared for and dreamed about.
Whether it’s not being able to find your favorite brand of toilet paper or missing a defining life event, Karen identified what many of us are experiencing as “collective grieving”, which simply means grieving the loss of the little things in our lives. Allowing ourselves the time and space to grieve is not a luxury, it is a requirement for resilience, and necessary for our mental health.
If someone comes to you to share how they are feeling, simply make space for them. We try to cheer people up, but people just want to be heard. Your job isn’t to fix a problem, it’s to provide a safe space.
#3 – PRACTICE MIND OVER MOMENT
I have been preparing for this moment for the last two decades. Raising Evan has been my resilience-building breeding ground. I have learned how to build my resilience muscle out of necessity.
Whether it is in this time of crisis or our normal hectic lives, life has become increasingly complicated. Proactively build your mental health and resilience by practicing Mind Over Moment. Mind Over Moment is a science-based approach I developed that utilizes the idea of mindfulness to help you break out of reactivity, strengthen your resilience, and live your life on purpose. (It is also the title of my new book!)
When we practice these habits, beliefs, and behaviors, we empower ourselves to get beyond the moments that urgently trigger our brains to react, and allow ourselves to stop, take charge of our thoughts, and reroute our fight-or-flight way of thinking. In other words, we can train our minds to be more resilient. I use these skills every day because, let’s face it, life is unpredictable at best, and I want to do whatever I can to get that extra push to get through the challenging and messy stuff.
Most of us react through life directionless and end up where we are headed. Mind Over Moment means paying attention—in each moment—to decisions you are otherwise making unwittingly so you can create the life you truly deserve. The goal is to continually bring yourself back to what matters most in your life.
#4 – FIND PURPOSE AND MEANING
Research has proven that having purpose in life predicts both health and longevity, suggesting that the ability to find meaning from life’s experiences, especially when confronting challenges, may be a mechanism underlying mental and emotional health. A sense of purpose can also strengthen your immune system, relieve stress, and even minimize pain.
Everyone derives meaning and purpose in different ways, but it really is as simple as answering the question, ‘What is meaningful to you?’. You may think of it as a way to your North Star, your reason for being, or simply a reason to get out of bed in the morning. You also might find meaning snuggling with your dogs, reading to your kids, or cooking. Don’t overcomplicate it.
The bottom line is that resilient people possess a clear sense of meaning and purpose that enables them to stay the course even when things get tough. It’s much harder to feel defeated when you have a deep sense of meaning for what you’re working toward. What drives you? Where can you make a difference? How can you use your unique gifts to help others?
#5 – KNOW WHEN TO SEEK HELP
Living with a child that suffers from mental illness is the hardest thing I have ever done, and it truly tests the meaning of unconditional love. As Evan’s illness has progressed, I have explored, researched and learned about information that I otherwise would not have pursued.
We live in a culture that isn’t comfortable talking about mental illness, nor do we see it as the health crisis that it is. While we are gaining traction, there is still a long road ahead to reduce the stigma that is attached to it.
I first got involved with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in 2007. My son Evan, now 17, was just four years old at the time and already on his first antipsychotic medication (I share our story in my TEDxTalk). I was a single mother, and I had no idea what to do or where to go, so I enrolled in a free class. The education, advocacy, and support I received changed the trajectory of my life and my purpose.
If you’ve made consistent efforts to improve your mental and emotional health and are still having trouble functioning optimally at home, work, or in your relationships, it may be time to seek professional help. There is NO shame in admitting you or a loved one is struggling. Please don’t wait until you or someone you love is in crisis before you ask for or offer help and support. No one can do this alone.
You have everything you need.
Knowledge is power, and the more we know about mental health and illness, the more we are able to find treatment and recovery options. Here are just a few resources. A portion of all of my book proceeds goes to the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Central Texas. They use this money to offer free classes, advocacy, support groups, and so much more.
If you are suffering, know that you are not alone. I know it may feel like it, but you are surrounded by a community of people that love and support you. Don’t forget to put yourself on your priority list. While it may seem overwhelming, it’s about one decision at a time.
If you or someone you know needs help, there is no shame in asking for it, and if someone asks you for help, don’t dismiss it.
You have everything you need to not only survive obstacles and adversity but to build your mental health along the way. Just remember, your scars are there to remind you of what you have overcome, and every time you fall and get back up, you can add that to the database of things that did not defeat you.
P.S. – Get involved. There are numerous mental health organizations that could use volunteers, donations, advocacy and support.
Anne Grady is a Speaker, Author, and #TruthBomb Dropper.
Anne shares practical strategies that can be applied both personally and professionally to improve relationships, navigate change, and triumph over adversity. And she’ll make you laugh while she does it. Anne is a two time TEDx speaker, and her work has been featured in numerous media outlets, including Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fast Company and Inc. magazines, CNN, ESPN, and FOX Business. She is the best selling author of 52 Strategies for Life, Love & Work and Strong Enough: Choosing Courage, Resilience and Triumph.