Originally published in The Tennessean, September 2021
If the past few months have left you feeling stuck in a timewarp, you’re not alone.
There were a few hopeful weeks in early summer when it seemed like normal activities were resuming in our state and our country. Now we seem to be back where we were a year ago with the COVID-19 pandemic because of the surging Delta virus variant. We’re also facing a divisive vaccination debate, and many hospitals approaching or even above patient capacity.
During the last 18 months, many of us have lost loved ones, jobs or opportunities, and daily routines we relied on. This reinforces that managing our mental health is just as important as our physical health — long a fact, but one that the pandemic has brought to the forefront.
It’s natural, and even automatic, to feel worry or fear as we navigate the ongoing pandemic. Taking a simple first step — like pausing for a deep breath — can prevent a domino effect of dread, and help manage your mental health.
When to reach out
I can’t overstate the importance of seeking help from your primary care doctor or a crisis hotline if you’re having intense feelings of depression, particularly suicidal thoughts. It’s also possible to get help using telehealth resources, and many BlueCross plans offer talk therapy through the PhysicianNow telehealth platform.
It’s also worth noting that depression can look different for everyone. Are you sleeping poorly? Unable to do things that used to be easy?
Stress and anxiety likewise shouldn’t be ignored, and adhering to the basics for overall health — diet, exercise, and rest — is one way to help manage them. Focus on introducing one healthy habit at a time into your life. For example, make Tuesdays and Thursdays dedicated “healthy meal” nights. Or set an alarm on your phone to start your bedtime process at 8 p.m. to be in bed by 9.
I know many caregivers with young children or senior relatives juggle ever-rotating schedules. Make the most of the time you know you’re in control of.
Also, don’t feel guilty about some things — plans with loved ones, folding laundry or unloading the dishwasher — that you sometimes have to let go of.
Guilt can weigh heavier during difficult times; one way I cope is by limiting negativity in my life. Turn off the news at home or on your drive, and park your phone in a different room at night to avoid “doom scrolling.”
Also, practice mindfulness, gratitude, and doing things that refuel you. There are ways to find joy even in times like these. Seek out new experiences and give back to others, regardless of whether they’re in obvious need. The idea I often share is to write down or say one thing you’re grateful for each day. This can be during a point in the day when you typically feel stress creeping in.
If you struggle to write for yourself, send a letter or postcard to a loved one. Think about those who’ve suffered a loss during this pandemic; perhaps they’re nearing an anniversary of the death of someone close. A letter doesn’t have to acknowledge this explicitly; just reaching out to let someone know you’re thinking about them can speak volumes. And it can help you feel better, too.
We’re moving forward
All things considered, we’re in a better place than a year ago. COVID-19 vaccinations are readily available and effective at preventing severe illness, and our shared experiences during this pandemic have moved us even closer to destigmatizing mental health.
If you’re struggling or feel stuck when that timewarp sensation resurfaces, remember you’re not alone — and there’s no shame in asking for help.