Mental Health During COVID-19

By Jessica Wilkerson, LMFT

So many people are feeling helpless and scared right now.  They might still be getting up and going to work, they may be at home social distancing themselves, and they could also be trying to use the time to improve their social lives by having small get-togethers and “taking the risk” (that no one will get someone else infected).  Regardless, there’s still this undercurrent of worry.

And rightfully, so!

It can be a slippery slope when we start to allow fear to creep in before it’s time, so I’d like to take a few moments to talk about what we can do in the meantime.

1.) It can be very cathartic to make a plan.  Differentiate what you can and cannot control in this situation.

  • You can control the amount of hand washing you do.
  • You can control your healthy nutrition and vitamin intake.
  • You can control the amount of sunshine you enjoy.
  • You can control how you interact with the people around you.
  • You can control your thoughts and what you focus on.
  • You can control your activities.

So make a plan to focus on the things that bring you joy and that are within your means to actively engage in.  Do them.  Whenever your mind goes to the “what if’s” redirect it back to your plan:
“Ok, looping on those thoughts isn’t going to fix anything.  I have as much medicine as I think I need and I’ve been getting outside at least once a day.  I’m going to go work on this puzzle and enjoy the little things for a while.  If the bad stuff happens, I’ll at least be able to remember this beautiful day and this puzzle.”

2) Get outside.  Even if the weather is funky, go outside and enjoy being alive for a few moments.  Move your body enough to make your breathing labored for about 10 to 15 min.  If you can get a few of those in each day so you end up totaling 30 min, studies have shown that it creates enough endorphins to lift your mood.  I like to imagine that the fresh air is oxycleaning my lungs while the sun is filling my Vitamin D stores like a video game lifebar – zooooom, full!  Vitamin D has shown to have a positive effect on the immune system.  Improved mood and immune support.

3) Reach out for support.  Reach out to the people who you love and tell them you love them.  Reminisce about happy times together.  Fantasize about future plans.  Talk about what you’re afraid of and allow them to give you their ear in solidarity and support.  Socializing does wonders for our psyche.  We were created to live in relationship with others, and when we find ourselves isolated for any reason (social distancing for the pandemic or due to symptoms of depression) our stores of the neurotransmitters that help us handle stress and actualize joy are inhibited.

We’re biologically created to be social.  If we can’t go out and have lunch, then have a lunch date on the phone or a video call.

4) Lastly, notice the present moment and find something to appreciate.  Feel the way gravity pulls your feet to the ground.  Allow yourself to take a few deep breaths and stretch your lungs.  Look each direction and really pay attention to what happens to be to the right, the left, in front and behind you.  What are the objects there; what colors are they; do they seem cozy or drab? What are a few things about this place or about your life that you really appreciate?  They just make you feel happy or warm.

When you allow your mind to really home in on the here and now, it lights up the part of your brain that can control your thinking and that light-up consequentially tones down the fight-or-flight part of your brain.  You’re not looping in worry or fear during those moments of being present and you have more control over those worrisome thoughts for a little while thereafter.  The more you practice, the longer you have control and the more effective it is (also, the quicker you get to peacefulness – it goes from taking 5 min of noticing to regain control of your thoughts down to 10 seconds of noticing to take back over your own mind.  It’s really surreal how effective it is!).

I truly hope that as you read this article you are able to notice something beautiful about yourself, your family, your home, and your life.  That you’re able to take these tools and find hope and healing during this stressful and scary time.

We can get through this.  Just remember to keep giving yourself grace and being patient with those around you.  They’re just as scared, and scared people can sometimes hurt each other’s feelings.  It becomes a negative cycle of fear and pain.

If you need an ear, please feel free to reach out.

By Jessica Wilkerson, LMFT
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist #104464

Jessica is social distancing by seeing clients online.  She has a wonderful husband, an adult son who means the world to her, and the two most amazing little ones.  Jessica can’t wait to get home to take them outside in the weird weather and get dirty and muddy, and enjoy their “kidness.”  Her heart is too full of love.