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How to take care of your mental health during a global pandemic

Mental Health/Relaxation

If you're feeling extra stressed and anxious during this time, know that what you're feeling is OK. CHALK asked mental health professionals for advice on how to take care of ourselves during a global pandemic

So, you’re a few weeks into social distancing or you're struggling to fulfill your town’s stay-at-home orders, and you find it’s really taking a toll on you. You have slept in until noon, eaten frozen pizza, and watched Netflix about as much as you can take. You feel alone, scared and bored. 

Sometimes changes, especially drastic ones, can be scary. CHALK spoke with mental health professionals about healthy ways to deal with the ever-changing pandemic we are living in to reduce your stress and anxiety. 

Know that what you’re feeling is OK

Experiencing fear and anxiety during this new and potentially threatening situation is OK, says Marjorie Cooper Paschang, a licensed clinical psychologist at MCP Therapy in Lawrence.

“Our current public health situation is uncharted territory for all of us and I would be surprised if there wasn’t a certain level of anxiety that comes along with these circumstances,” Cooper Paschang says. “I think it is good to acknowledge these feelings and remember that you are not alone in this feeling.”

Experiencing anxiety is not necessarily a bad thing, says Kendall Heiman, a licenced specialist clinical social worker who works at Paramount Recovery LLC in Lawrence. Feeling anxious during this time is completely normal, and it can actually help you, Heiman says, in being more vigilant, thoughtful and intentional about your actions. 

Acknowledge your feelings

Avoiding how you are feeling and trying to push it down may temporarily reduce your anxiety and fear, but it can end up spilling out in ways you don’t want it to, Cooper Paschang says. 

“Instead of avoiding the emotion by ignoring it or distracting yourself, I would encourage everyone to take in the experience and let their emotions run their course,” Cooper Paschang says. 

You should accept the way you’re feeling, however you should ensure it doesn’t take total control of your thoughts and actions, stopping you from being able to function normally, Cooper Paschang says. 

Recognize when you are worry thinking

If you find yourself thinking about negative outcomes in general, magnifying the situation into something worse than it actually is or being constantly pessimistic, you are worry thinking, says licensed psychologist Tish Taylor, who has offices in Lawrence and Leawood. She recommends focusing on the present instead of the future. 

“While I am not ignoring planning and thinking through how certain things will be accomplished, the present moment is all that we have control over at any given time,” Taylor says. “How we handle the present moment, has a direct contribution to our mental health and mindset.”

Focusing on the things you can control is another way to reduce worry thinkings, says licensed clinical social worker Leslie Beesley, who works in Lawrence and Olathe. Things like taking care of yourself, washing your hands and keeping your hands from touching your face, are all your part in controlling the curve. 

Licensed psychologist Barrie Mariner Arachtingi of Centers for Consciousness in Lawrence recommends practicing identifying what you are doing at a certain moment and speaking it to yourself. For example: “‘I’m washing dishes right now. I’m taking a walk right now. I’m working on my online class right now. I’m watching a movie with my boyfriend right now,’” Mariner Arachtingi says. 

Take a brain break

One thing boredom or being alone can allow you to do is get inside of your head. This can be worrying about the future or being anxious over events that happened in the past. 

If the time traveling happening inside your head becomes too overwhelming, Cooper Paschang suggests taking a “brain break.”

This can be done by sitting in a comfortable chair, taking three deep breaths, and then focusing on your surroundings using your five senses. 

“Take a few minutes to explore your environment as it stands before you,” Cooper Paschang said. “If your mind starts to wander toward memories or worry, acknowledge it, but then continue to use your senses to bring yourself back to the present.”

Another way to take a brain break is to unplug from the news, social media, and other electronics for at least an hour a day, Beesley says. During this time, you can take a walk, get creative, do yoga, listen to music or read a book (that has nothing to do with the Coronavirus or another pandemic). 

Make a daily routine and practice self care

As our daily routine we are used to is being disrupted in every way, Cooper Paschang suggests making a new routine to compliment these changes. If you don’t, it can lead to lack of motivation, feeling depressed and over-worrying. 

This can include planning out meals, creating a regulated sleep schedule, making time to exercise, staying on top of your hygiene, cleaning, and leaving a space in your day for being productive (whether that be for school, work or fun). 

“If at all possible, go outdoors, breathe in fresh air, and take time to experience nature,” Taylor says. 

Maintaining a regulated sleep schedule is necessary during this time, Heiman says, as lack of sleep or a sleeping routine can cause or amplify the problems associated with your mood and anxiety. 

However, allowing yourself flexibility instead of focusing on set ways is also important, says Sarah Kirk, director of KU Psychological Clinic

“Embrace as much as you can that you have to be flexible, and things are going to be fluid and changing,” Kirk says.  

Beesley recommends paying extra close attention to self care during this time. 

“What I mean by that is to make sure that you are eating nutritious meals, staying hydrated, staying physically active, getting sunshine on your face, and getting plenty of sleep,” Beesley says.  

Stay communicated

In an effort to avoid feeling isolated and lonely, keep in touch with loved ones who are positive and uplifting. Although you may not be able to interact with them face-to-face, Cooper Paschang recommends reaching out through video chat, phone, letters and even social media. 

Taylor advises actually hearing the person’s voice as opposed to texting, as this allows more of a connection. Additionally, going outside allows us to be around others, even if we do not know them or have to distance ourselves. 

Remember that this is temporary

A final way to reduce anxiety is to remember that this experience will not last forever, Taylor says.

“We can only live through it the best that we can,” Taylor says. “It is important to find what good can be taken from it such as realizing what we may have taken for granted and finding newfound gratitude for simple or certain things in one’s life.”

Although it may feel like you’ve been trapped in your bedroom forever, it’s important to remember that it won’t actually be forever. Cooper Paschang says focusing on the current events can make this difficult. 

“I would encourage everyone to limit their news intake and allow themselves to focus on other parts of their world,” Cooper Paschang says. 

Resources

If you find yourself struggling, it is okay to reach out to loved ones or an expert. Mental health services at the University are currently offering tele-therapy appointments for currently enrolled students. Here are some more people and resources that might be able to help:

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