The past year has created psychological stressors. For many, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to anxiety and depression as people have dealt with isolation, job loss, sickness, and other disruptions to their lives.
It is important to process what has happened and to deal with emotions and thoughts that may have been triggered during this difficult time.
Find a safe space to talk about what you’ve experienced and felt.
This can be with friends and family, or in a therapist’s office, or even on social media. People can’t fully explore what they’ve experienced until they are in a safe environment. In a safe space you can explore the range of emotions you may be carrying.
Society-at-large can provide that safe space; we can all make a difference. It could be as simple as asking a co-worker if they want to talk or asking a neighbor how they are doing. Most importantly, find someone or a community where you feel supported and encouraged. These communities might be found on social media.
What do you notice that is different about yourself? Pay attention to the changes you are going through. Are there warning signs that your mental health may be suffering? Are you sleeping less, isolating more? Have your eating patterns changed? Do you feel rested, or as if you are stuck in a cycle?
Think about simple steps to tend to your mental health.
Maintain regular schedules, including those for sleep and meals. Sometimes setting simple goals can help with depression, such as brushing your teeth daily, dressing or eating three meals a day.
Immerse yourself in positive, pleasurable hobbies. Our usual social networks are curtailed, but look for substitutes that may involve social distancing and other safe practices.
Get exercise and fresh air. Regular exercise is shown to decrease the severity and frequency of depression. Warmer, sunnier weather is here. A brisk walk can substitute for the gym. A good behavioral plan would increase your activity level and set certain goals within a schedule. This type of behavioral therapy often is successful beyond any prescribed medications.
Maintain, access and expand your support network.
Find more ways to engage with your family, friends and community. Assess your support systems and take advantage of them. If you need more help, follow up with your primary care doctor, who may either treat you or refer you to a specialist.
We need to grieve what we’ve lost to the pandemic, whether it be loved ones, livelihoods, our sense of security and belonging, or even routines. COVID-19 has affected the whole world and has fundamentally changed how we’re going to live our lives in big and small ways. Take a moment to acknowledge this.
Even as we emerge from the pandemic, we know things will not fully return to the way they were before. We’re coming to grips with that, both the good and the bad. In order to look forward, you must process what’s come before. Better days are ahead.
If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. You may also reach out to:
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) at www.nami.org or call 1-800-950-NAMI
Alex Cheng, MD, is a board-certified psychiatrist with Holy Name Medical Partners. His experience in treating patients with mental disorders in a large New York City medical center has helped him develop a caring approach that encompasses the most advanced treatment options with balancing the needs of each individual patient. Dr. Cheng is a member of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. He also speaks Mandarin Chinese. To make an appointment with him at his Westwood or Teaneck office, call 201-358-0400.