As we continue to adapt to this “Stay at Home” period of our lives, many of us will have days or moments when we feel we’re hitting a breaking point. Some of us might face unemployment or uncertain financial circumstances, while others are trying to juggle work, kids, homeschooling, and a myriad of other things. In light of all this, it seems every news outlet is starting to highlight self-care and mental health. Here is a segment from the TODAY Show discussing mental health during the coronavirus outbreak. Also, in case you missed it, I did a Facebook Live video earlier this week on the Stapelton Scoop Facebook page, which you can view at the end of this post or here on our YouTube channel.
One good that might come out of this pandemic is a stronger push toward removing the stigma around mental health. We’re quickly learning that mental health is just as important as physical health, yet very few of us spend time working on our mental health. We’re also seeing how mental health and well-being exist on a scale or spectrum, along which we move throughout our lives.
When we’re dealt a difficult hand or tragic event, we can easily slide down that scale. Unpleasant thoughts and feelings — fear and loneliness and irritability and worry, to name a few — can make it hard to move back up the scale to a healthier place. While it’s important to allow yourself to feel those feelings, it’s also important to be able to pull yourself out of them. So how do we do that?
Having a handful of strategies is absolutely paramount in building emotional resiliency and finding your way back to a happier place. Among those researchers have found helpful are the following:
Asking for help
Staying connected to people
Talking to a therapist/counselor/psychologist
Spending time in nature
Having more than one go-to strategy is exceptionally important because there may be times when your go-to is not available. Sometimes, for example, you can’t exercise because location, weather, time of day, injury, or other priorities/responsibilities can make it a non-viable option. During those times, you need to have something else you can lean on. Asking for help is notoriously difficult for people because we don’t want to admit we can’t handle everything on our plate. Here is a great TED Talk about the Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown.
Unfortunately, most of us were not taught how to build emotional resiliency. Maybe you were told to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” or “suck it up.” The problem is, if we don’t process the feelings before moving on, we find ways to subconsciously avoid them. Maybe we self-sabotage, turning to alcohol, food, or drugs, or we lie on the couch watching TV rather than getting work done. Maybe we carry a chip on our shoulder, making it difficult to build relationships. Maybe we lash out at our partner, kids, or neighbors, or continuously replay events and conversations in our head. Maybe we’ve become a “perfectionist” to avoid criticism and negative feelings. Sadly, all of these responses to life’s inevitable setbacks will keep us from bouncing back and living a life with joy and purpose. This Ted Talk by Guy Winch is a fantastic look at how, if we don’t bother to work on our mental health, serious issues can arise.
Suppressing feelings can also lead to physical ailments. There is a vast amount of research that shows a person’s mental well-being has a direct and significant impact on their physical health. Joint pain, sleep issues, a weak immune system, headaches, and cardiovascular issues are often rooted in emotional health. For example, NBA star Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers began experiencing panic attacks during games. After a full physical evaluation, it was determined that the issue was not caused by an underlying health problem, but rather by anxiety. He has since been outspoken about mental health and the benefits of talking to a therapist. Read an article he wrote called Everyone Is Going Through Something or watch a video of an interview he gave with Juliet Macur of the New York Times HERE.
Kevin Love isn’t alone. None of us are immune to mental health challenges. In fact, healthcare workers, first responders, and men and women in the military and law enforcement are at an increased risk. They work long hours, often away from family and friends. They are witness to a lot of tragic events and sometimes struggle to ask for help because they’re used to being the helpers. Here is a clip of an Assistant Fire Chief discussing mental health and first responders. These are the reasons why, during this pandemic, we all need to take a little time to evaluate how we’re doing both mentally and physically. Reach out for help if you need it. We will all get through this together.
Here is a list of local therapists if you want to talk to a professional. Forget the stigma. Help break the stigma. It takes more strength to reach out than it does to pretend everything is fine.