Provided by Sarah T. Jayyousi, MSW, LPCC, LCSW
These are challenging times that may bring up anxiety and stress, especially if you are constantly following the news or anxious about your loved ones or your health. It is important to stay informed and equally important to engage in physical, psychological and spiritual self-care. A holistic approach is important in reducing stress and anxiety and helping you stay connected to others in your community. This can include a combination of proper nutrition, regular exercise, maintaining supportive contact with family and friends, and utilizing your surrounding community (church or support groups). If you are used to seeing a friend weekly, continue doing so electronically. I just had a birthday celebration for my daughter over Zoom with close family members. That 30-minute period made a difference in feeling less isolated and in recognizing important milestones. With up-coming graduations, we can continue celebrations and find ways to adapt, as humankind has done for centuries.
Be Proactive and Engage In Holistic, Meaningful Activities
We know from history, such as the Spanish flu of 1918-1919, that mental health problems and first-time psychiatric hospitalizations increased significantly. If we take measures to be proactive and engage in holistic and meaningful activities we can reduce the negative impact of this pandemic. Having a modified structure can also be helpful rather than waking up at random times and staying in pajamas all day.
Social Distancing Does Not Need To Include Social Isolation
Support of family, friends, neighbors and community can be helpful. Many of us feel happier, less anxious and more centered when we help and give to others. We can stay preoccupied and paralyzed by fear or we can take steps to engage our community and help those in need. A few of my colleagues and friends are helping in food pantries, donating to safe parking programs or calling elderly acquaintances to offer help and support.
Separate Yourself from Your Thoughts
In Western society, we tend to focus on our thoughts and those thoughts or strong emotions can be distressing and impact our lives. Separating ourselves from our thoughts can be helpful. We are not our thoughts and we are not our emotions, we simply experience them. If you find yourself anxious about a particular issue, it may help to say to yourself, “I am noticing that I am having a thought about….” This helps you separate yourself from the thoughts and reduce their negative impact. Being mindful of your thoughts undermines the dominance of our negative thoughts and helps you focus on the present moment. When you are resting, let go of negative thoughts and visualize them as leaves moving through a stream. They are separate from you and do not have to consume you.
We are human beings capable of adapting and thriving in times of hardship. Engaging in mindful activities, such as art and yoga can also help us stay in the present and assist in coping with the pandemic. Mindfulness exercises are useful and can help manage stress, improve sleep, and even reduce blood pressure. UCLA has an excellent site with podcasts ranging from Mindfulness in Difficult Times to Driving Meditations. Visit uclahealth.org/marc/meditation-at-the-hammer to access.
You can also visit our partners at the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI at nami.org/covid-19 or call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) for assistance. You can also text “NAMI” TO 741741.
Finally, if needed or interested, many medical and mental health providers provide Telehealth services. Tri-City Medical Center Outpatient Behavioral Health Services has virtual treatment options for patients who would benefit from Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) care. These include services such as major depression, anxiety disorders and more. To get started please call 760.940.5051.
May you stay healthy and balanced and continue adapting in these rapidly changing times!