I can feel a shift coming. Mania is creeping in. I can feel it breathing down the back of my neck. I want to turn around and scream at it, back the eff up! Social distancing dude! However, my anxiety and mania know no boundaries. There’s no handbook for this situation, no How to Protect Your Mental Health During the Coronavirus Pandemic guide book.
Even after 16 years of being non-episodic and years of learning every single thing I could about my disorder, I know how to recognize an episode coming on. I can feel it. There is no mistaking it. If you’ve survived an episode, you know what it feels like. If you’ve been manic, you’ll do everything to never be manic again.
First thing’s first, if you feel your mental health being compromised in ways that you can’t handle yourself, get help. It’ not a sign of weakness to know to ask for help; it’s a sign of strength and progress. When you can’t feel the crazy creeping up, that’s when you’ve got to start to worry. In my opinion, you’re only actually crazy when you refuse to admit it. I embrace it. Hell, I woo it. Invite it out for drinks but let it know it’s never going to be more than that.
In so many ways, this is a strange time to be alive. Between sheltering in place, quarantining ourselves from society while, literally, hiding from an invisible killer no wonder we’re overwhelmed. Some days it doesn’t feel real while on other days it feels like the only thing that is real.
Part of experiencing something like this is that we’re all learning how to adapt as effectively as possible very quickly. It’s changing day to day, hour-to-hour and some days, it feels like minute to minute. It’s a huge source of stress for anybody. Not surprising that a lot of people are struggling to keep their mental health in check.
As it happens, our mental health is the one thing that we should all be laser-focused on. If we want to come out of this coronavirus pandemic with our sanity intact, we must. All we can do is make the best use of the time at home being present with our families. Use it to do things we’ve never had the time to do but always wanted to or just rest. Most of us have never lived through a pandemic before, in many ways it’s a blessing in disguise. Coronavirus could be the catalyst needed to give ourselves permission to focus on our mental health.
How to Protect Your Mental Health During the Coronavirus Pandemic
The real goal of meditation is to realize that there is no goal. If you’re new to meditation, in the beginning, you might feel like it isn’t working or if there’s even a purpose. You might spend the entire time talking to yourself in your head. That’s okay, just let it all happen. It’s all part of the process. Just pay attention to these events in the mind, and just let them be. Accepting things as they are is how we learn how to deal with everything life has to throw at you, including coronavirus.
You don’t have to believe in any particular spiritual tradition, and you don’t have to believe in any, in order to find meditation useful. If you make a point of meditating for ten minutes every day for two weeks, you’ll find that you’re in a better place mentally. Even without the outside world situation having changed at all, you’ll have more clarity.
Anyone who spends their lockdown meditating every day, you’re going to emerge on the other side of this as a mental warrior. For those who are particularly prone to depression or anxiety, meditation could work wonders for you.
Make A List of Future Events
During times of despair, it helps if you have something that you can look forward to after all this is over. If you’re feeling particularly disappointed or let down by the cancellation of sporting events, or concerts or other types of celebrations, then sit down and write out a list of all the things you want to do, places to go and people to see when this shelter in place situation has passed and it’s safe to resume life closer to normal. They don’t even have to be events you can actually attend, you probably won’t go to most of them, but having a plan lets you feel like you have some control over the situation and the list gives you something to look forward to crossing off. It gives you hope and hope is the most powerful tools there are for improving your own mental health.
Socialize from Home
Even if you live somewhere where you’re required to shelter in place and you aren’t currently allowed to leave your house to go and see friends and family, there are still ways of socializing from home safely. In many ways, we’re lucky that we live in a time when things like Zoom and Facetiming exist. As long as you have a computer or smartphone and an internet connection, you can still speak face-to-face with your friends and family. Not sure what I’d do if I couldn’t at least connect with my people via social media and our smartphones.
Human connection and some semblance of normalcy are huge parts of staying sane during this pandemic and it’s something that you should absolutely make sure you are doing if you want to keep feeling happy and feel as though you are still in contact with the outside world. We’re social beings, and we need to socialize even during these testing times, or especially at these times, just from within our own homes and from at a distance.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Many people don’t fully appreciate how important sleep is for their mental health. I learned a long time ago, from personal experience, that if you don’t get enough sleep, your emotions are more likely to be all over the place and your mental health will suffer. You’ll find it harder to keep your moods under control and your thoughts are more likely to run away from you and keep you up late nights trying to catch up with them.
On top of all that, you’ll find that you are more likely to put on weight and be generally less physically healthy, and physical health is just the other side of the coin to mental health, one affects the other profoundly. So keeping your mental health strong at this time requires that you get plenty of sleep, and there are a lot of things you can do to ensure that. No need to suffer alone.
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Cutting out caffeine and alcohol are two strong and easy moves that you can make, as is ensuring that you have a strong bedtime routine every night which you follow religiously. Beyond that, try to calm yourself before bed with breathing exercises, and make sure that your bed and bedroom are fully comfortable. No screens before bed. If you can do all that, you should find that you’ll sleep easier and more deeply, and that’ll allow you to be able to look after your mental health more effectively.
I know this is easier said than done, especially when it collectively feels like the world is on fire. I get that it feels like everything you’ve ever known is burning down around you. Just remember, everyone gets stressed and right now especially everyone’s feeling stressed. Just remember to give yourself grace and just do your best to feel normal. That means embracing your stress with mindfulness, and learning what to do about it. Whether it’s a calming activity, allowing time for it to pass or calling your doctor and getting professional help. There is no one right way to deal with the stress we are all feeling. Finding ways to manage your stress in the smallest way, you’ll find that even coronavirus can’t keep you down.