An article by Joanna Sullivan, MA and Dr. Tonya Warren, Psy. D.
May is National Mental Health Month, but this will not be an article telling you how much you need us during “these challenging times.” Times are challenging, true, but that didn’t just start in March 2020. What we never hear talked about through all of these challenges is the incredible ability of the human spirit to adapt, even to the most trying of circumstances. This is not to discredit the stress, un-comfortability, and even pain many are experiencing. But it’s important not to end the story there.
Many of us feel overwhelmed by a sense that the world is out of our control. We live zoomed out, watching drama and heartache play out on a national (or even global) scale. The further we zoom out, the smaller and more helpless we feel. Sometimes too much time looking at the big picture can paralyze us completely. So what’s the answer? Should we all unplug permanently?
We have found in our work, and in our own lives, that spending more time zoomed in is the way to counteract hopelessness. Instead of looking at the big picture, look close to home for an achievable and meaningful goal. For some, that might be spending time advocating for changes in the local community. For others, it might be reconnecting with family members who have grown distant. It can look like mindfulness, observing the present moment without judgment. It can also look like cleaning and rearranging the living room or finishing a procrastinated outdoor project. Changing a piece of our own corner of the world, even just a little, is enough to counteract that sense of helplessness and hopelessness.
Self-care is another element we’ve found to be vital to mental health and wellness. So many times people think that trying harder is the answer when they feel like they’re struggling. In our experience, when people are struggling, it’s that much more important to take time for self-care. Connecting with others or taking time to do things we enjoy sends a message to ourselves that we matter. We’ve never needed to feel that more.
That being said, self-care might look a little different right now and that’s okay. It’s important to acknowledge that anything we can do is infinitely better than doing nothing at all. Take a walk outside even if you can’t go to the gym. Call a friend even if you can’t meet them for dinner. Take some time for things you love, even if it’s not as much as you’d like.
Finally, sometimes even the strongest people need some extra support. If you feel like you’re struggling, you’re not alone. Reach out to friends and family for support. Consider spending some time talking to a therapist. Asking for help isn’t a weakness, just another way to make it through.