Supporting our mental health has become more important than ever this year, as Covid-19 continues to take its toll on us. According to a recent survey by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 percent of American adults report experiencing Covid-related mental health or behavioral challenges. About one-third are struggling with anxiety or depression. Almost 11 percent have considered suicide.
In honor of World Mental Health Day on October 10, we have dedicated this week’s post to supporting our emotional well-being. Here are five ways to build up your mental reserves during these uncertain times.
1. Create your own predictability.
What was once predictable, stable, and non-negotiable—attending school, commuting to work, hugging loved ones—has now become the opposite. “Well-being is all about creating harmony and living with a sense of predictability,” says psychologist Deborah Serani, PsyD, author of “Living with Depression.” It’s natural that the constantly shifting nature of the “new normal” has made us feel frazzled and defeated.
While we can’t change the state of the world, the pace of medical research, or our child’s school system, we can create stability and predictability inside our own homes. “During traumatic times, constancy is a comforting tool,” says Serani. For example, she recommends having set times for meals, work, school, rest, and sleep. Write these daily schedules on a whiteboard or use a smartphone to set reminders.
2. Anticipate difficult moments.
In stressful times, tough moments may be unavoidable, but you can learn to weather them effectively and bounce back faster. Start by reflecting on what happens when you’re struggling—you feel helpless, get irritable, withdraw from loved ones—and have strategies at the ready, says psychologist Rosy Saenz-Sierzega, Ph.D.
Next, jot down your coping list, which might include names of supportive people to call, breathing techniques, feel-good activities like looking at silly videos or walking your dog, and even the number for the suicide hotline, says Saenz-Sierzega. It’s also helpful to watch for the earliest signs that you’re struggling, so you can promptly intervene and prevent a full-blown breakdown.
3. Nourish your senses.
When you’re stressed, simple strategies that appeal to your senses can go a long way: They require little effort but provide immediate relief. To prompt positive feelings, engage your sense of sight by opening the shades or getting out in the sun, or looking at nature, art, or other uplifting images, says Serani. To create a calming aroma, diffuse lavender essential oil.
“Studies show that even small moments of flavor sensations can enhance your mood and well-being,” says Serani. So sip your favorite beverage, slowly swirl a piece of candy, or savor other favorite foods.
4. Go for the WIN.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, the WIN technique—“what’s important now”—can serve as a helpful anchor, says Saenz-Sierzega. WIN consists of three steps: Identify your current reality, accept it, and refocus on solutions.
Here’s an example: You’re panicking after your colleague tested positive for COVID. You assess your symptoms, find a rapid testing site, inform your roommate, and keep a distance until you receive your results.
Using WIN won’t undo your emotions, but it kick-starts the process of shifting from what’s outside your control toward productive action, says Saenz-Sierzega.
5. Lead with your values.
Activities that focus on your values can help protect against depression, says psychologist Regine Galanti, Ph.D., author of the book “Anxiety Relief for Teens.” In fact, psychologists and other mental health experts use value-based approaches to help patients boost mood, reduce symptoms, and create meaningful daily lives.
To identify what matters to you, Galanti recommends sorting various values—like family, fitness, creativity, career, growth, service, and spirituality—into “very important,” “somewhat important,” and “not important.”
Then use your top values to determine some of your activities for the week. Think of pandemic-related restrictions as an opportunity to get creative. If you value family, set up a weekly game night over Zoom. If your career is a value, take an online class to sharpen an important work skill.
As the pandemic rages on, it’s understandable to feel worried and overwhelmed. But remember that you can feel better and take small, nourishing steps — even when stressful circumstances are here to stay.