Stephanie Livingston–Psychologist

Archive for November, 2020

COVID-19: Mental Health Survival Kit

by on Nov.15, 2020, under ARTICLES

COVID-19: Mental Health Survival Kit

Since March 2020, humans have been confronted with an issue that has turned our lives around. The rise of the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we do business in most aspects of our lives. Our health, jobs, homes, worship, how we shop, and the way we interact with each other has taken a sudden turn. Change, good or bad, requires us to adapt to a new situation which can at times be stressful. If we have good physical (e.g., exercise, healthy eating, good sleep hygiene), mental (e.g., meditation/spirituality, optimism, relaxation), and social (e.g., family/friends, meaningful work/purpose, play) coping skills, getting through this pandemic will be much easier.  Since the Spring 2020, when we had to shelter in, mental health disorders have escalated in number and severity.  We are suffering from higher rates of anxiety depression and suicide. Turmoil has become the sign of the times, with rising  divorce rates and domestic violence. We can likely attribute much of our suffering to job loss or potential loss concerns; illness and/or death of loved ones; loss of meaningful activities, social isolation and loneliness. The good news is that we do have some control over these situations we view as unpredictable and therefore stressful.

My own experience with the onset of the shelter-in policy related to COVID-19 was eye opening. I had the benefit, that many people do not, of working remotely but had to change my private practice model from in-person sessions to 100% virtual (i.e., using technology) rather than in-person therapy. It was a blessing to have the flexibility of avoiding commuting to the office, thereby saving on time and money.  However, I immediately fell into some bad habits that got me completely off track from my normal routines. I found that my eating, sleeping, and TV watching habits changed dramatically. I no longer felt a need to go to bed at a certain time and awaken at a certain time. I started binge watching TV series and constantly checking out what was in the fridge to eat. Why not? It was there! It wasn’t long before I gained a few pounds, overdosed on the varies series on the boob tube, and found I was exhausted during the day. I noticed that many of my patients were experiencing the same things. It was after a few weeks that I had to treat myself as a patient and decided to practice what I preach—“Doctor heal thyself.”

My adaption to this dramatic change in our society was to start with the basics as I mentioned earlier—eating, sleeping, and exercise.  I started by reverting back to my previous sleep/wake habits by going to bed at 9pm and up at 5am, ensuring my much needed eight hours of snooze time. Similarly, I figured that it was my best bet to keep my eating habits the same as when I went to the office. No more donuts or Cheetos for breakfast and M&Ms for a late afternoon pick me up snack. I decided to eat like I did before, juice and fruit upon awakening; oatmeal or yogurt a couple of hours later; salad for lunch; tea in the afternoon, and dinner as usual. Fortunately, my exercise habits improved during shelter-in because I had more time to work out, especially running outside to get out of the house. Yay! The isolation piece wasn’t as bad as for someone living alone. Having a spouse helped to mitigate feelings of loneliness that many people who live alone have been experiencing. In addition, I participated in various virtual activities to stay connected with family and friends. As businesses began to reopen, occasional social-distancing outings .  (e.g., outdoor dining, apple picking) were a plus. I immediately started to feel better within a week or two just keeping to my normal routine.

As far as enjoyable activities, I spent more time in my garden during the day whenever I had a free moment and certainly on weekends. I have always found interacting with nature to be calming. I dusted off my piano and started playing again, practicing yoga in the evening, and did more reading for pleasure.  When forced to slow down and smell the roses, you would be surprised at the impact on your mental and physical well-being. More recently, I have decided to use my writing skills to work doing articles for my website and starting a podcast—this is my first.

My way isn’t the only way to finding ways to cope with this pandemic and disruption in our live, but find a path that is best for you. We are resilient people who have adapted to changes in our lives at many levels (e.g., environmental, economic, political). Sometimes change is a good thing. Remember that time you got fired but went on to get a better job, started a business, or went back to school. Or, remember the partner you thought was the love of your life who dumped you, but you went on to find someone better? Keep in mind there is always a silver lining in every cloud, you just have to look for it. What is your silver lining in this pandemic?

For those of you who have spiraled into severe anxiety or depression and can’t seem to rebound remember that there is effective treatment. Virtual therapy, hotlines, self-help books and medication are options. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be very effective with both anxiety and depression; as well as regular exercise. In fact, for many people who experience mood disorders, CBT alone can be just as effective as antidepressant and antianxiety drugs. The important thing is to do something. Make a plan and execute. It’s okay to feel anxious but what are you going to do about it? Figure out the source of the problem and eliminate it if you can and if you can’t learn new coping skills to counteract the effects of potential stress factors. People tend to feel better when they feel they have some control over the controllables. If you are lonely, make finding a mate a priority, even though it may be difficult in these uncertain times. If you are single and feeling lonely it has probably never been as pronounced as now. Loneliness is a health risk factor comparable to smoking cigarettes. Be aware that social media can be a positive means of staying connected during this pandemic, but for some it is detrimental. Many young people, who use social media to compare themselves to others, often feel as though they don’t measure up—forgetting that what they are viewing is not always reality. Studies show that there is a correlation between social media and depression, so be wary. If you find that you feel worse after checking out what’s happening on Facebook or Instagram—get off for a couple of weeks and see how you feel. Spend more time making your life different rather than wishing it were.  Develop healthy eating and sleeping habits, exercise, stay connected to family and friends, find a hobby, relax, and practice your spiritual beliefs. Taking one small step will eventually get you to the finish line of positive mental and physical health. Act now!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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