Managing Mental Health Beyond COVID-19
As the pandemic began and the orders to “shelter in place” were given, many of us had no idea our lives were going to drastically change. Many lost their jobs, worked from home, began home-schooling their children, and stopped seeing their family and friends.
Many had become isolated in their homes for months and months on end. Sure, perhaps we had the weekly trip to the grocery store, but that had about summed up our interactions. Maybe for a time all you did was drive to work, return home and do it all over again the next day.
This very abruptly became our “new normal” and we all adjusted the best we could. Fast forward to the stay-at-home orders being lifted, and our “normal” is changing once more. Naturally, this came with an array of emotions: some good and some bad.
Ultimately, “normal” has become something very difficult for many of us in such an unprecedented time.
Oftentimes, we really like to be in control. Scratch that, sometimes we need to be in control. Sometimes, if we lack control in our lives, stress and worry become unmanageable. The unknown often leads to unpleasant emotions such as anxiety and stress.
Here are just a handful of things you may be thinking:
“How will I readjust?”
“I’ve become such an introvert and homebody, what if I don’t really want to go out anymore?”
“I feel so awkward now and am so self-conscious.”
“Should/will I/others be wearing a mask?”
“Will this seriously affect my (insert concern: anxiety, depression, work performance, relationships, etc.)”
In a time of uncertainty, knowledge is power. If what I am feeling is “real” and I am not alone, I am valid. When we are validated, we are in a much more ideal position to navigate and regulate our emotions.
Have you ever heard of the “Fight or Flight” response? It is originally named for its ability to enable us to physically fight or run away when faced with danger. Adrenaline floods through the body in an attempt to prepare for battle.
Only this time, the activation isn’t happening when you need it. It’s happening when you don’t want it! It’s happening in the food store, at work, among co-workers, friends, and family. And ultimately, sometimes it’s happening even when you’re alone.
Activation of Sympathetic Nervous System
Excess adrenaline and dopamine can lead to the following in your body:
Increased heart rate
Sensation of dry mouth, breathlessness, or choking
Tightness and/or heaviness in the chest and muscles
Feeling overheated and/or lightheaded
Butterflies and/or cramps in your stomach
Nausea and/or the urge to go to the bathroom
Inability to think clearly, rationalize and focus.
The antidote to the activation of the nervous system listed above (sympathetic) is our parasympathetic nervous system. This is referred to as “rest and digest.” Deep breathing triggers this stabilization that releases feel-good neurotransmitters to help calm our nervous system. This can have immediate effects in lowering our heart rate, relaxing muscles, and thinking clearly.
Here are a few tips for managing mental health when experiencing some of the above symptoms:
Mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness exercises such as scanning your body from head to toe for tension in your muscles and subsequently releasing the tension, visually observing your environment, or tuning in to the noises around you. (ie: Listening to the birds sing, looking at your pets, etc.) Mindfulness allows you to become present in a non-judgmental environment.
Power of the breath: Intentional breath helps us to calm down. Focusing on our breath for as little as 3-5 minutes per day can make all the difference!
Journaling: Finding an outlet for anxiety allows space for the worry to leave our minds and enter the page we are writing on. Allow your thoughts to flow freely onto paper without attempting to control them.
Reaching out: Help is always available. Seek professional support. Contact a co-worker, friend, or family member.
If you are experiencing any of these thoughts and symptoms, you do not have to go through it alone! If you are ready to reach out and get supported in re-adjusting to the “new norm” or want support in managing anxiety, stress, and overall emotional well-being, please give me a call today.
I offer FREE consultations and can be reached at 954-391-5305. I provide counseling in Coral Springs and Fort Lauderdale as well as across the state of Florida with our secure online therapy platform. For more information about me and my approach to therapy, please visit my page here. I look forward to speaking with you!
For more tips on how to cope with the mental health epidemic as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, click here.