Minding Your Mental Health
“I’m generally a glass-half-full kind of person. I mean, I tend to think there’s a silver lining somewhere to be found in most situations. But after being separated from family and friends for so long, the doom-and-gloom news reports and constant worry over getting COVID, I have to admit it’s been a real challenge to stay positive and not feel overwhelmed by it all.” – Signed, Usually Sunny in California
Dear Usually Sunny: We get it! After more than a year of living in a pandemic, many of us are dealing with mental health issues. In fact, more than 42 percent of people surveyed by the US Census Bureau in December reported symptoms of anxiety or depression—that’s up 11 percent from the year before.
For some of us, this is our first experience with any kind of mental health issue. Learning healthy ways to cope can help you work through these feelings and make it easier to bounce back from stressful situations. For others with existing mental health issues, the added stresses of the pandemic make it even more important to know your warning signs and take steps to care for yourself.
A Mental Health First Aid Kit
To start, try a combination of coping tools, like the ones suggested here. Keep the ones that work in your own “mental health first aid kit” to use as you need them.
Stay social. Social interaction is one of the most powerful antidotes to anxiety and depression. With in-person meet-ups still limited, many older adults have turned to virtual meeting technology, such as Zoom and FaceTime, to spend time with family and friends.
Lend a helping hand. Are there ways you could use your extra time and talents to help others? There may be a student who would benefit from online tutoring sessions with you. Many organizations are also looking for friendly callers to reach out to isolated seniors. Helping others can be a satisfying and positive distraction.
Schedule “you” time. For many of us, one victim of the pandemic has been a regular schedule of activities to look forward to. But you can still schedule specific times each day for whatever brings you joy—sewing, meditating, an online class, dancing, you name it! Putting it on your calendar can help you be sure to make time for it.
Take news breaks. It’s good to be informed, but a constant stream of news can be very stressful. Better to check for updates just once or twice a day, at set times and from credible sources.
Think positive. This can seem like a tall order but choosing to have a positive attitude helps many people work through tough times. Taking a positive view rarely makes things worse, whereas negativity feeds anxiety and depression.
Try mindfulness. Even short periods of mindfulness practice, such as in yoga or meditation, can have a positive impact on your health and well-being. The internet has many free, online courses. And there are meditation apps for your smartphone.
Be good to your body. Mental health and physical health are related—so eat a healthy and well-balanced diet, exercise at least 30 minutes a day and don’t have more than one or two alcoholic drinks a day. Talk with your doctor about how you can safely stay on track with your preventive tests and immunizations.
Educate yourself on mental health. Recognize Mental Health Month in May and raise your mental health IQ by visiting these online resources:
National Institute of Mental Health
National Alliance on Mental Illness