The pandemic has made us all much more aware of our mental health, but what do we do with this increased awareness? Being stuck inside all day and relegated to Zoom meetings has been emotionally taxing and has taken its toll. It has made us feel more isolated than ever, but at the same time it has opened up the opportunity for deeper and more honest conversations about mental health. We have realized that mental health matters, and that it has a profound effect on the way we live our lives. Perhaps we were too busy or distracted before the pandemic to notice the deterioration of our inner worlds, but now we have been forced to take a good long look at what’s going on inside of us. So, what have we seen?
Many of us have fallen into a rut by being forced to isolate and stay indoors. We need other people, and when we can’t have those in-person connections, it’s so easy to fall into a depression. The social isolation coupled with the depressing news we hear every time we turn on the TV or open our news apps create a recipe for despair.
Comorbid with depression, of course, is anxiety. The fear that many of us already struggle with daily has only been exacerbated by the ever-shifting virus cases and state and federal regulations. We are constantly kept on our toes with the news, and then have plenty of time to sit around and ruminate on it–both of which feed our fear.
Tools to Cope During
So, what can we do to move forward differently? Now that things seem to be returning to “normal,” we have a new opportunity to create good, sustainable habits for our mental health. Some strategies include:
Nothing makes hard emotions worse than invalidating them. If we are already experiencing mental distress, we don’t need our inner critic to judge ourselves for feeling the way we are feeling. We need to learn how to accept our feelings and recognize that they are trying to give us useful information. Acceptance is different than letting our emotions drown us–it opens the door for healing much quicker than when we condemn ourselves. When we learn to validate what we are feeling and cultivate compassion for ourselves, we can learn to slowly let go and move forward. If we keep beating ourselves up, we will stay stuck in an endless negative cycle.
Without hope, we cannot rise above our mental health challenges. If you are a person of faith, there is no better person to put your hope in than God. If these crazy times have taught us anything, it’s that the world is an extremely unstable place, and trying to put our hope into it will only lead to the negative mental health consequences we have discussed. If we can begin to find hope in Him rather than the constantly changing circumstances of life, our mental health will be much more stable.
3. Nurturing Relationships
We have seen how the lack of in-person relationships has made us suffer this past year, so now more than ever as everything opens back up, we need to be intentional in our relationships. If you are a believer, that means first and foremost you need to nurture your relationship with God. After that comes all other relationships––your spouse, kids, extended family, and friends. We have learned not to take these relationships for granted. Find creative new ways to connect with those you love, and be grateful for the chance to meet someone for coffee in a real coffee shop instead of over Zoom.
“Self-care” is a common phrase we throw around these days, but what does it look like? Well, it’s different for everyone. It’s doing whatever you need to do to take care of yourself emotionally, physically, and spiritually. There are some universals like eating healthfully, getting plenty of exercise and sleep, and staying connected in your relationships. But you can also have fun by coming up with some special self-care routines like treating yourself to a bubble bath while your husband watches the kids or going to the beach to read a good book with an ocean view. Make a list of activities that bring you joy, and take the time you need each week to do those things.
Creating structure in your life is key to good mental hygiene. If we don’t have some kind of schedule for our days, we can quickly spiral into negative mental spaces. Structure keeps our minds engaged in the present and focused on the tasks at hand, instead of wandering around all over the place. Whether it’s a simple morning routine like coffee and Bible reading for 30 minutes each day or scheduled homework time for the kids, create a schedule that works for you and your family to thrive.
This past two years has been hard on all of us. We’ve all encountered various challenges, whether it was contracting the virus, loved ones getting sick or even losing loved ones, racial injustice, the war in Ukraine or drastic changes in our lives –we have all felt the negative mental health consequences. As we reflect on the past two years, we should rightly grieve the pain and loss, but we shouldn’t stay stuck in it. It’s time to move forward into a new season with the eyes of hope and faith. Now that we’ve known such suffering, we are able to have a new perspective on the things we once took for granted. Let’s march onward with this newfound resilience, not ignoring the past but rather letting it transform us into stronger people who are ready to face whatever lies ahead