Tips to Keep Your Mental Health in Check During Covid and These Uncertain Times
CoolRevolution had the privilege of being part of a virtual conference hosted by Women of Westfield, a network of women from all walks of life, who are interested in bettering their community and building relationships with other like-minded women. Kristen Boise, a marriage and family therapist at Pathways to Healing Counseling gave us all tips on how to navigate all the uncertainties happening around us because of Covid and this pandemic that just continues to spread and wreak havoc on our lives in so many ways.
The first thing to know: You’re not alone.
“Everyone is struggling on some level,” Kristen said. “Everyone is afraid or uncertain right now.”
To help us get through, Kristen offered 10 tips. Instead of trying to tackle all 10 right now, pick just one thing from this list to do right now and focus on it in the week ahead. Little steps can go a long way.
Tip No. 1 - Deep Breathe.
Take five to six breaths – inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth – every hour. Yes, hourly. You can use any breathing technique that you are comfortable with. Kristen prefers to do this with both feet planted on the floor. Breathing is essential for the nervous system and your body.
When things seem out of control, when the kids start to argue, or someone at work causes you stress, before doing anything, plant your feet on the floor, and breathe. Breathe before responding, reacting or over-reacting.
Tip No. 2 – Process. Connect & acknowledge emotions.
Chances are you did not learn this growing up. Most of us were taught to control our emotions. That’s not healthy. It’s important to process how you feel. To get started, watch the Disney Movie “Inside Out,” which is about 11-year-old Riley who goes through the emotions of joy, fear, anger, disgust and sadness when she moves to a new city.
It’s important to process your emotions, regardless of what those emotions are. Ask yourself: What am I feeling?
Ask the same things of your kids and friends. It’s a much more powerful question than: How are you doing?
Teenagers are especially struggling right now, because of covid. One day they are in school, the next they are doing virtual learning. There is so much uncertainty, and they are missing out on all the things kids typically do, like hanging out with friends, going to events, going on dates. There is a feeling of isolation.
Everyone is missing out on connections. So, check in with your teens, family members and friends by asking: What are you feeling?
Tip No. 3 – Movement.
You need movement at least five times a week.
“Covid is a trauma,” Kristen said. “Our world got flipped upside down. This can throw us off our routine.”
To help, move. That doesn’t mean you have to start training for a marathon or a big exercise program – although it can. It can mean walking 10 minutes on a treadmill, or walking 30 minutes around your neighborhood or doing yoga from an online video. Do what works best for you, and try to build your movement into a daily routine.
Tip No. 4 – Watch expectations.
“Expectations are resentments waiting to happen,” Kristen says.
We often expect our spouses to be able to read our minds or know what we want or need. When they don’t say or do what we “expect” them to, then we get upset. This isn’t rational.
“Only you know what you need in the moment,” she said. “You have to communicate.”
A suggestion to better understand this is a Netflix documentary, “Call to Courage” by Brene Brown.
Tip No. 5 – Boundaries. Boundaries. Boundaries.
More than half the women who attended the virtual seminar admitted they often have trouble with boundaries and will agree to something they don’t want to do, just because they don’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings, or they don’t want to be rejected, or because they think it’s the right thing to do.
“We cannot have healthy connections without healthy boundaries for yourself and in your communications,” Kristen said. “Boundaries are what feels good to you.”
Tip No. 6 – Build a Support System.
This could be one person or several people, but you need a place where you can be vulnerable, authentic and real, and have someone who will allow you to share your emotions and feelings without judgment or giving advice. Likewise, when a friend comes to you, instead of jumping in to give advice or try to help solve the issue, let them share, and then lead with empathy.
Tip No. 7 – Limit News Exposure.
“Some people are listening to the news like they are drinking from a fire hose,” Kristen said. It’s leading to more feelings of uncertainty and angst.
It’s OK to get the key headlines but obsessing about the news is not healthy.
Tip No. 8 – Recognize and work through the ways you numb.
Everyone has a vice. Is it wine? Binging on Netflix. Overeating? Online shopping? Pills?
There is a whole litany of ways people numb, because we don’t like to be uncomfortable. But, the best way out of feeling uncomfortable is to learn to sit in discomfort and work through it by breathing and processing feelings. The first step is awareness, Kristen said. The next step is to breathe.
“Numbing is to shut down emotions that need to be processed,” she said. “So instead of moving to vices, ask: What am I feeling? Connect. Breathe.”
Tip No. 9 – Stop Shoulding on Yourself.
The word “should” equals shame.
“We ‘should’ all over ourselves,” she said. “I hear it in almost every conversation. I should have made a healthier meal. I should be eating all organic...”
Replace the word “should,” with “could.”
Tip No. 10 – Listen. Read. Write.
Journaling allows you to move through your emotions, and you have to get it out, otherwise, you loop the same thoughts in your mind.
Instead, Kristen suggests being a witness to your own thoughts. Emotions are like waves, they come, peak and then go down. When you write down those feelings, it helps to work through them.
“It’s healthy to let out your own feelings,” she said. “You are letting your body free itself. When we let it out we get it out.”
For more information on how to navigate these uncertain times and other tips on mental health, check out Kristen’s podcast, Close the Chapter.
Also, check out “Unlocking Us,” or “Dare to Lead,” by Brene Brown. Kristen also likes Brendon Burchard’s podcast, The Brendon Show.
-Kristen D Boice M.A., LMFT, EMDR Trained
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