I was recently interviewed on another podcast (links to come when it is published) and one of the questions that came up was how I am taking care of myself mentally in this time of Covid and forced isolation. I thought this was a good question - for a multitude of reasons - some of which I will get into below.
I have not been shy recently about my struggle with mental health issues - both past and current - and how a lot of the issues that came about from it is (honestly) are a result of me not learning at a young age how to process things correctly as well as how to care for myself mentally. And I will not lie - this Covid time really did have the potential to be very bad for me - and at the start of the isolation I was starting to feel the impact of isolation and seeing the same four walls day after day.
Covid has shown an increase in suffering - and we see people suffering from the forced isolation. Suicides, self harm, alcohol sales, drug use and depression have increased across the board in the United States across all age ranges. This is scary - yes we need to keep people healthy from the virus - but at the same time we also need to figure out ways to keep people mentally healthy as well.
So how do you keep mentally healthy in these days? Honestly this is going to be different from one person to the next - but there are some things which are consistent and applicable to everyone and self care/mindfulness is probably one of the most important parts of the equation that can benefit everyone.
If you searched on the web for a definition of self care you would find the medical terminology of self care being tied to ADLs - or activities of daily living. These ADLs include such things as eating, showering, brushing teeth, wearing clean cloths, and attending to medical concerns. But when talking about mental health self care - it is a little more focused and slightly different. While the things listed above are important - there are additional and varied steps you can take with self care to help keep yourself mentally healthy.
Self care (when talking about mental health) is an overarching idea and is not something that is the same for everyone - what I may do for self care may be completely different then what someone else does. The goal behind self care is to do something that you enjoy that is within your control - and typically it is something that will keep your mind busy and away from the troubles of the world. Now you may hear that and think - ok cool so what I enjoy - yes and no. Typically you want something that will busy your mind to keep it from dwelling on whatever is bothering you at the time - so sometimes just listening to music and letting your mind wander may not be the best thing to do.
You want something that takes your full attention - and again that is going to be different for each person. For me - listening to music can take my mind fully away from whatever is going on. I have a background with music - so not only am I listening to the words but I am listening to the interaction between all of the instruments as well. But those times when I just want to put music on as background music - that doesn't help.....and why is that? Well one of the secrets to self care is mindfulness. Now mindfulness is not the only method of self care that one can use - it is just one tool to keep in an arsenal to help out with keeping mentally healthy.
Mindfulness is essentially being present in the moment - both the good and the bad. Seems simple huh? Wrong. Mindfulness in other words is focusing on what is going on in the moment and not worrying about the other things in the future or in the past. Taking time like this allows you to experience your emotions and the things going on around you and be present in what is going on - this helps you not only be aware of your emotions as they change based on what is going on around you but also what is going on around you as well and the subtle things that may be missed while being busy with other things. Some examples of mindfulness (at least on the pleasure side) is taking time to enjoy the sunlight against your skin, the sound of the wind as it goes over the grass outside, the interaction of the music in the room, and whatever else is going on around you. And I'll be honest - this is not an easy undertaking - being mindful and living in the moment is a hard skill to learn and implement. It takes times and practice - and I will admit it took me many months to learn how to put this method of self care into practical practice - and I am still learning how to do this properly.
And see here is the thing - you might be thinking right now - But Paul you have some mental health issues so of course you need to do that - true - but I have found that even people without diagnosed mental health issues right now are looking for assistance on how to navigate through these times of covid and remain grounded mentally. People who used to be able to hang out with other people to recharge their mental batteries may no longer be able to do that - and they may not know how to handle this change. I'm finding that even teens who are used to living their entire life online are having issues as well - and are saying how they miss the in person interaction. It would be one thing if this was a slow change in the way society worked - but this was effectively a light switch being flipped with people being able to interact socially to all of a sudden being told to stay home - sometimes even with threat of jail or financial penalty.
Some practical examples of self care besides mindfulness include: getting a massage, cleaning your room, taking a shower, going for a walk, playing with your pet, journaling, enjoying a snack you like.
Now at the start I said that this was a good question to have asked during the podcast interview- and here is why. When people are willing to have this conversation and they ask others about how they are keeping themselves mentally healthy it reduces the stigma of mental health issues as a whole. It doesn't lower it by orders of magnitude, but just slightly - and even slightly is a great start. We have gone way too long as a society where we keep mental health issues as almost a secret thing that we deal with in the shadow - afraid to let others in. We are afraid to be vulnerable with others about our struggles - and being vulnerable about our own mental health issues is harder (at least for me) then being vulnerable about other areas of our life.
Life is hard, and sometimes we need support. And that brings me to the last thing I want to talk about today.
If you need support for a mental health issue, there are a multitude of resources available to you. If you or someone you know is in an immediate crises where there is the potential to harm - then call 911 or get them to an emergency room. The person may not appreciate it at the time - but you know - someone living is better then someone appreciating what was or wasn't done. That being said - if someone needs help and it is not an immediate sense of danger - there are a multitude of resources. There is always https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ which has a phone number as well as a chat resource available for those looking for help or those looking to find help for others.
There is also heartsupport.com. Heartsupport.com is a site which offers hope for people dealing with a whole host of things - addiction, depression, suicidal ideation, and other hard things that life throws their way. They have live streams, texting options, and a web based forum to seek and give encouragement. They also have links to youtube videos from various bands, medium articles, and books/devotionals. Check it out - I will be on there posting and responding on the wall a little bit more frequently now - but I will talk more on that at a later time on why that is.
Take care of yourself out there.