Navigating Mental Health during a Global Pandemic
COVID-19 has presented some unique challenges for those of us struggling with mental health concerns. People have been forced to be restricted to their homes with limited access to in-person therapy or treatment.
Under ordinary circumstances, mental health can be difficult to manage. This global pandemic has introduced new mental health challenges around lockdown, isolation, and social distancing.
Many mental health issues can be made worse by things like isolation. Many of us during lockdown, had no choice but to be alone. Most were stuck in situations where they had to live with people who may not have been terribly understanding or supportive of their mental health struggles. And some may have been living with their families who have no idea about the state of their mental health.
It’s safe to say it’s been tough. And I just want to take a moment before diving into this topic; if you’re reading this and you’ve found the past few months to be a struggle, YOU’RE DOING AMAZING. Ignore that voice in your head telling you any different. What we’re going through is unprecedented. The number of times I’ve heard people say ‘never would have guessed something like this happening in our lifetime.’, it’s so true. None of us saw this coming, we couldn’t prepare, and we had little-to-no guidance throughout. You did everything you could to keep your head above water, and you should be proud of yourself.
There have been so many phases to this global pandemic. In the beginning, we were introduced to the challenge of lockdown, where we were stuck in situations regardless of whether we were comfortable or not.
For a large population, lockdown meant total isolation. We were given a lot of time alone with our thoughts which, for many, was a nightmare situation to be in.
When we’re struggling with our mental health, our thoughts have a tendency to go round in circles like a broken record. When we’re alone, this voice turns up the volume.
We can start to spiral with these thoughts, and without a physical escape being an option, this was a really difficult place to be in for many.
For others, lockdown meant being stuck in households with people around who may not be terribly understanding or supportive of our mental health. This introduced new challenges, frequently feeling misunderstood and judged.
Many people still don’t understand mental health. Mental health is still considered taboo for many people. Depending on our upbringing, race, gender, age, and other psychosociological factors, our understanding and attitude towards mental health differ wildly.
If we grew up in an environment that values traditional gender norms, for example, being gay could be especially challenging for our mental health, as we’re surrounded by people who may not understand or who may not care to understand being gay.
Living with people who do not know how to relate to or understand our struggles can be incredibly difficult. Open conversations need to be encouraged from both the one struggling with their mental health and those around who may not understand. These open conversations are sometimes not welcomed and are impossible to initiate and have constructively.
Surrounded by Family, Alone
And then there were those living with their families or in households with people who may not all be aware of our mental health issues. Having to carry on with our responsibilities when we are struggling in secret is not an easy feat. Many are not ready to openly discuss their mental health, but when we are surrounded by people all day, keeping up the ‘act of happiness’ can be exhausting.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
And then there was the question of leaving the house. Depending on the mental health issue, leaving the house can be a struggle even outside of a global pandemic. Mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, or OCD can keep people confined to their homes on a normal day.
When we suffer from extreme anxiety, sometimes it’s just easier to stay inside.
While we suffer from depression, sometimes getting out of bed is an impossible task.
When we struggle with OCD, the idea of leaving the house can be anxiety-inducing, especially if we have contamination OCD during a global pandemic!
Mental health issues like social anxiety can be made worse through isolation. Socializing takes practice, and for those with social anxiety, it requires quite a lot of frequent practice for sufferers to feel somewhat comfortable in social situations.
While we’re no longer in lockdown(Global Pandemic), we seem to be in an equally strange and challenging place. We are now allowed to leave the house (depending on where we are in the world) with certain restrictions. These restrictions are changing very frequently, and social distancing is still highly encouraged.
These sudden changes in regulations are hard to keep up with and for those struggling with mental health issues, change can be especially daunting. Speaking broadly, people with mental health issues typically find comfort in routine and structure. There are already so many unanswered questions in their lives; it’s easier to manage mental health when we eliminate some of these questions through living a structured, routined life. COVID makes sense of routine and structure difficult to obtain, with ever-changing regulations and restrictions.
Self-care is an important practice for everyone, but it’s especially important for those of us with mental health concerns.
Self-care is when we carve out a portion of our day to focus on something that is just for ourselves. The self-care can be making yourself a tea, reading a book, doing a breathing exercise, implementing a sleep routine, talking to friends, or actively disconnecting; the list goes on and on. So long as you are allocating time to focus solely on your wellbeing, you’re practicing self-care.
During these uncertain times, the one thing we can rely on is ourselves. If we can show up for ourselves and take active steps towards improving our mental wellbeing, we may find new ways of coping with the uncertainty surrounding everyday life.
Can’t go to the gym anymore? Schedule in a class at home when you would usually do a class outside. Make that appointment for yourself and no one else. Being selfish get’s a bad rep, but being selfish from time to time is essential for our mental and physical wellbeing. This goes for double for those of us with mental health concerns.
Know when to seek professional help
If you are concerned that you may harm yourself or others, always contact a professional. There are free services available that offer confidential chats and advice. The Samaritans for example is a resource you can use if you need to talk with an impartial person about your mental state.
You can always talk to your GP about your mental health struggles. They should be able to give you some advice and guidance on treatment plans or therapy options.