Hi guys, how are you doing? 2020 has been a hell of a year in so many ways both personally and publicly. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it… or rather, what aspects you look at and how you react to them. You know about the political and social events that have occurred throughout this year, but what about the way they alter and affect the big picture of our daily lives and how you can turn negatives into positives?
A Little Background on Me
I, like countless others, have been dealing with the ramifications of the pandemic in many ways. When the country went into lockdown, I was furloughed from work, my 14-year-old daughter’s school was closed (and she has been learning remotely ever since), and, like many others, I dealt with a shortage of toilet paper.
Nostalgia of the very recent past came into my mind as a sudden reality.
Many of us have felt an extreme sense of loss due to the changes that have swept over the country and through our lives. Some have a sense of loss for loved ones who died after contracting Covid-19. The rest of us have a sense of loss for the life that is now in the past and the type of interaction and entertainment that we are unable to experience for the time being. There is a way to deal with this and it mostly revolves around acceptance (I have not lost someone really close to me, so I will not touch on the subject of coping with Covid-19 deaths; however, if you are struggling with this issue I suggest the resources that the CDC has available on their website).
Fear and insecurity about the future was on all our minds.
Concern for the economy washed over society.
We all need to know how to deal with the virus and the fear and anxiety it has caused us.
Ways to Cope
We all have our own unique ways of dealing with stress that work for us, but I thought I would share what has worked for me so that you can implement new coping mechanisms into your routine to see if they work for you too.
To truly find things that work, first we must know the cause of our mental uneasiness.
Fear is one of the main emotions many of us have had to constantly deal with because of the pandemic. We are afraid of the virus itself, afraid of the shaky economy or losing our jobs, and afraid of what may happen in the future. Add in the fact that the pandemic coincides with a presidential election and racial reckoning and, for many, the fear is multiplied.
Loneliness has crept into our lives like never before. Social distancing and quarantining have isolated us from others. We haven’t been able to take vacations (at least not like during pre-pandemic times), we don’t visit friends and family like we used to, and even our times small talking with strangers have been altered. Children, even those that are not remotely learning, do not have the same type of healthy social interaction as before and many are working from home as well. Not much can be done for the causes of the loneliness, but we can fight the loneliness itself.
We must learn to accept that the life we had before the pandemic will not return in the foreseeable future. Sure, we may wish we could return to 2019 (or even January 2020), but we cannot. The virus has changed our lives and society and there is no way to go back immediately. It will take time so we must accept our new normal for what it is and learn to deal with it in a healthy way.
Anxiety is quite likely the most predominant emotion that people are feeling in 2020. We have anxiety about many of the things that are causing the other emotions I mentioned such as anxiety about the economy and future, about our social lives, about our finances and job security, and about the invisible killer that is the virus itself.
All of these emotions have led to anger, substance abuse, and depression… but there are better ways to deal with the negative thoughts and feelings that you have.
We will get through this together!
I want to talk about meditation first because it is so easy to begin doing today and can help with a large range of the negative emotions you may be feeling.
Meditation can relieve anxiety and help you take control of your thoughts. It is one of the ways that I cope with everyday stress and since these negative emotions have been on the rise, I think it is important to be aware of this tool in our mental health repertoire.
Meditation can help one accept and let go of negative emotions and it has helped me deal with our “new normal.” It has helped me realize that the only way to deal with my negative emotions is to accept them and find positive things to focus on.
Meditation is known to be good for anxiety and stress but can also be good for anger. Not many activities are so good for our mental health and positively affect all negative emotions in the way I have found meditation to. Sure, more scientific research needs to be done to fully understand meditation and conclude that these claims are true, but it has certainly worked for me.
If you have doubts about meditation or do not know how to begin, please see my Beginner’s Guide to Meditation!
Many people disregard the positive effects that healthy eating can have on mental health. Eating healthy is always good for the body and mind, but it can boost your immune system as well… this is a great time to take control of your eating habits.
You are what you eat…literally. Your body creates new tissues and cells from the food you eat. When we have negative emotions, we tend to eat comfort food such as ice cream, potato chips, and, for me at least, chicken fried steak and gravy. This is counterproductive, and it can help tremendously to set a goal to eat healthier-even if your only motivation is to have more positive thoughts.
Healthy eating can help reduce stress levels. It is important to eat a plethora of healthy foods from all categories; however, there are two nutrients that I want to discuss in relation to mental health.
- Dietary Fiber- fiber is related to many health benefits and it is essential to a healthy diet. Eating high fiber foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is associated with a healthy gut which many believe could directly result in less stress. For more information see “Stressed out? Eating more fiber can help”
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids- Omega 3s are thought to have mood boosting properties and most Americans do not get enough of them. They are found most abundantly in seeds and nuts (think walnuts or chia seeds), fatty fish (such as salmon or sardines), and plant oils (like flaxseed or canola oil) and Harvard Medical School has a great article that discusses these benefits in depth.
In addition to helping to improve sleep, exercise can also directly improve emotional well-being. You can feel an improvement in mood in as little as 5 minutes with exercise because of the release of endorphins.
Exercise can alleviate depression and help with stress and anxiety. Some studies show that exercise can help as much as an anti-depressant medication and helps us relax and focus.
Adding a mindfulness element to physical activity can help with stress and anxiety even more. A good example of this type of workout is yoga which combines meditative techniques with a physical workout.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says, “According to some studies, regular exercise works as well as medication for some people to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and the effects can be long lasting. One vigorous exercise session can help alleviate symptoms for hours, and a regular schedule may significantly reduce them over time.”
There are obviously numerous other benefits to exercising regularly, as if you need any other reasons. As little as 30 minutes of exercise a day can improve mood, promote better sleep, and prolong life.
Making connections with others is always important and many of us are less social for the simple fact that we are at home more. Many people work from home and social distancing has become common place. We are traveling less and have less interaction with friends and family. So what can we do for loneliness?
There is always social media- if one is to benefit from social media, however, I think that it needs to be used as a connection between individuals and needs to be a strong connection. It cannot be sharing cat videos and pictures of dinner… it needs to have substance.
Zoom (or Skype or whatever video chat you prefer) meetings are often the closest we can connect with someone, but it is still possible to make a connection. This is especially true with friends and family. Treating it differently just because it is a video chat and not in person will make it much harder to feel the beneficial effects of the connections being made.
Time for You
Lastly, I think it is extremely important to make some time for yourself. This can help balance work and personal life when you are working from home. Give yourself 30 minutes (or even better, an hour) each day to do something you really enjoy. I like to write or play guitar. I also like to spend time with my kids. I make sure I do these things and do them often. You likely have completely different things that you enjoy-, but it is important to do them. This can make all the difference in the world!
Let me know if you have a different way to cope or if any of these ideas helped you by commenting below!