By Kacey Clark
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. And it has come just in time. There is a lot of fear, uncertainty, and unfamiliarity right now in a time when we are already desperately grappling to keep ourselves afloat with the current political climate and widespread mental health concerns.
While there are many ways we can still practice self-care and self-soothing at home, not every option is accessible to those in dire personal, physical, and financial circumstances. To give you some ideas on how to cope with the anxiety provoked by the pandemic, the Adios Barbie team has come up with a list of accessible coping mechanisms that you can use at home so that you can feel at ease without sacrificing your money, time, and physical and emotional energy.
Note: the Adios Barbie team are not licensed mental health professionals. This is simply intended for resource and support purposes only. If you need to speak with a mental health professional and have the means to do so, reach out to someone to schedule a virtual therapy session. If this is an emergency or if you are unsafe at home, please dial 911 and/or reach out to the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s emegency mental health hotline: 1-800-950-6264.
1. Re-frame the way you are thinking about the pandemic.
While there is no shame in being sad, disappointed, confused, angry, or any other emotion that may come up during this turbulent time, it is important to acknowledge the ways in which we can find peace and solace. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a technique that is typically used in talk-therapy with a licensed mental health professional that focuses on the re-framing of thought patterns.
The thoughts we think are powerful and have a strong influence over our emotions as well as our physical body, but luckily, we can re-frame these thoughts and alleviate the emotional and physical pain they inflict on us by becoming aware of them and shifting them. This requires the active use of mindfulness techniques, or drawing attention to one’s current mental, emotional, and physical experiences in the present which is rooted in Buddhist philosophy.
By identifying negative thought patterns, we can begin to name and reframe them and ultimately create a new state of mind. For example, if you always find yourself thinking that this pandemic will never end and that it is somehow the universe conspiring against you, try to identify and hold space for this thought, and then flip the script. For instance, “this will never end” becomes “I have gotten through many hard things in my life and I will get through this as well.” “The universe is against me” becomes “everyone is affected by this right now and we are all in this together.”
You can speak out, write down, or simply take mental note of these negative thought patterns and actively work to shift them throughout the day. However you go about it, we are in our heads now more than we were in our pre-pandemic lives, so it is worth it to make your head a nice place to be. But if you find yourself in your head more often than not and it is taking a toll, there are also ways to shift your awareness.
2. Get out of your head and into your body.
When we reside too much in our thoughts, it starts to distance ourselves from what is going on in our physical bodies. Here are some ways to shift your awareness from your headspace to your body and make peace with whatever your body may be experiencing:
- Breathing techniques
- Sit in a quiet space, indoors or outdoors, and close your eyes.
- Shift your attention to the air going in and out of your lungs, to the rise-and-fall of your chest, to the sound and rhythm of your breathing, and the sensation of being alive.
- Whenever negative or intrusive thoughts arise, acknowledge them and then re-center to your breath as an anchor.
- Maybe put your hand on your heart or chest to feel your heartbeat or to notice the sensation of your chest rising and falling.
- If difficult or suppressed emotions come up, feel them, honor them, identify where they are concentrated in your body and what those sensations feel like, and continue breathing through them, making sure not to suppress them further.
- Body scan
- You can do this lying down, sitting, or standing up.
- Starting from your toes, bring awareness to each part of your body traveling upwards, taking as much time as you need to fully acknowledge what is going on in each area of your body until you reach your head.
- During the scan, ask yourself, are there certain areas where I feel tighter or more sensitive? Am I experiencing any pain? Am I experiencing any release?
- Yoga doesn’t have to be an intense, fiery practice. Simply going into “child’s pose” or laying down in “corpse pose” and breathing through it can help you come into your body.
- Always breath in and out as you move.
- There are free guided yoga practices on YouTube, routines on Pinterest, and basic poses can be found here.
- You don’t need a mat, workout clothes, excessive amounts of time, or athletic ability–you just need to be willing to come into your body and move it in a way that feels good for you.
3. Get out of your head and into your environment.
For those of you who are overly attuned to what’s going on in your mind and body and feel dissociated from your surroundings, it may be helpful to shift attention to your environment. Here are some questions that you can ask yourself to guide yourself into a mindfulness meditation to cultivate awareness of your surroundings:
- What sounds are you hearing right now?
- What is the texture of the floor beneath your feet?
- How many colors can you see right now?
- What is the quality of the air?
- What kinds of smells are around you?
- What things surrounding you bring you joy right now?
- What things surrounding you are you grateful for right now?
- What is the temperature around you? If you’re inside, do you need to open or close a window?
- If any of these questions is particularly soothing or restorative, focus on that question until you feel more grounded, centered, and calm.
4. Get outside.
It is crucial to practice social distancing and other such responsible practices when going outside or into public spaces, but if you have access to a public area where you can safely sit, stand, or walk outside, even for just a few minutes, this can be helpful. There are proven mental health benefits to being outdoors. It can boost your energy, alleviate pain, improve your immune system, and help you refocus. Right now may be especially hard if you are used to being outside of your home most of the day, but for even those of us who typically work at home or spend most of our time indoors, simply going outside to feel the sun and the air on your skin or practice mindfulness practices in nature can be incredibly healing and grounding.
5. Journal, draw, get creative.
Journaling is perhaps one of the most often cited coping and processing mechanisms, and for good reason. Journaling helps us to not only physically bring out our internal thoughts and feelings to the external world, but it also allows us to process them by making them more objective. Here are some great journaling prompts that you can use to explore your thoughts and feelings during the pandemic, or if you’re feeling especially creative, try art journaling to reap the benefits of both creativity and mental processing. You could even cut up some old books or magazines that you have lying around to create a vision or mood board, whether it’s just a collection of soothing images or a visualization of a reality that you wish to manifest while in quarantine.
6. Talk, reach out, connect.
Not all of us have a solid support system during this time, which is a sad reality but one that many are experiencing. Some of us live alone, are estranged from our families, have lost loved ones, or have recently moved and are trying to start over in the midst of quarantine. Whatever your circumstances, know that you can reach out and get the help you need.
If you do have a support system, reach out via phone, Skype, Zoom, or maybe even send someone a heartfelt letter or homemade card. Staying connected to those we love and who love us is always important, but especially in this lonely and strange phase of life, we need each other now more than ever.
If you do not have a solid support system you can reach out to, there are other resources. Mental Health America has a whole web page full of tools, advice, links, and resources for those in particular circumstances, such as if you are a parent or a first responder, for those of oppressed identities, such as LGBTQ+ folks, and for those who are simply seeking to connect with other through free webinars, live events, and online workshops.
While this list of resources is very comprehensive and covers many circumstances you might be facing during this time, it may not be enough to get you the help you need. If you are having a psychiatric or mental health emergency please call 911 or let a trusted loved one know what is going on. Above all, take care of yourself and prioritize addressing your needs. Because even though the whole world is suffering, that doesn’t mean you should neglect your health and well-being. We are all in this together and all of our needs matter. Let’s support ourselves and each other during this pandemic and every day afterwards. When we are well nourished with self-care we have a reserve that allows us to face each day and if we are lucky contribute to others. Self-care can truly change the world.