Like many of you, I am feeling unsure of what to do when things feel so uncertain. I may be a clinical psychologist, but I am also a person who has never lived through something like this before. I can assure you; they did not go over this in graduate school. The never-ending scary new cycle, the uncertainty, the schedule disruption. It’s all taking a toll on our collective mental health.
Ways we Process Stress and Anxiety
Most people are experiencing intense and persistent levels of stress and many people are anxious and worried. For some, this manifests in physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, and trouble sleeping or eating. For some, the worry is most pronounced in their thinking. This could look like worry about the future, rumination about the past, or a very active mind that is hard to quiet. For those with a history of trauma, substance abuse, or other mental health concerns, the stress is leading to relapse or worsening of symptoms.
Life in the time of social distancing is an exercise in distress tolerance. It is requiring all of us to practice sitting with discomfort and taking everything one day at a time. Life is requiring us to do this as we are also parenting, working, caregiving, and trying to maintain a sense of normalcy. This is all really hard!
While there is no magic salve to ease the worry and uncertainty, prioritizing your mental health on a daily basis is essential to getting through this. Engaging in daily practices to improve your mental health keeps your baseline anxiety level lower and improves your mood. It also means that when you do have a hard moment or experience a spike in anxiety, it is easier to regulate your emotions. Think of it like taking a daily multivitamin for your mental health.
If you are looking for a place to start, I’d recommend starting with cultivating radical acceptance. Radical acceptance refers to a mindset of total acceptance of what is without fighting against what you cannot change. It is not about liking what is happening; rather, it is recognizing that fighting reality when there is nothing you can do to change it only leads to suffering. To borrow a metaphor from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), imagine you have fallen in quicksand. Your inclination might be to kick, fight, and writhe around, but that only leads you to sink further. To find your way out you need, to lean back and float. You have to accept what is.
For ideas and strategies to improve your mental health and decrease anxiety, you can follow me on twitter on @DrEmmaBasch, on Facebook @dremmabasch, or on my website where I am posting daily coronavirus coping strategies. If you feel you need additional support, I’d encourage you to reach out to a qualified mental health professional. Therapists are still working and most of us are caring for with patients remotely via videochat or phone, so there is no need to delay getting the care your need.