Strategies to Deal with Difficult Times
by Valerie Hernandez, JSSA Social Worker
We’ve been in a pandemic for over a year, and talking about mental health is now more crucial than ever. Mental health has always been important; however, for many people, the implications of the pandemic have had a big impact on their mental well-being. This is understandable. We live in an unprecedented time when companies, employers, schools, and other areas of society are constantly changing. Public guidelines are dynamic, among so many other ever-changing pieces of the puzzle that are our lives. A whole year later, and sometimes we cannot help but wonder … “When will I feel in control again?”
The truth is that this question is one that many of us have quietly asked ourselves even before the pandemic. Living busy lives means we are operating in “survival mode,” often at the expense of our mental well-being. You have probably noticed that you can only give a small part of yourself to those around you when you are in this mode. You may not be able to sit down for a hot meal and ask your children what their day was like; some days, it may seem like you can’t even breathe deeply. Concerns about childcare, job insecurity, health care, and many others take up space in your day as well as in your mind.
So how can you make some time for yourself? The good news is those coping strategies are a fantastic tool to help us navigate stressful situations daily. We all use coping mechanisms. As human beings, we are adaptable and do what we must do to move forward. However, these natural coping responses can often be harmful if used long-term (e.g., consuming substances, avoiding friends and family, eating more or less than we feel comfortable). Taking advantage of positive strategies to deal with stressful situations can help us develop our sense of control over aspects of our lives during such uncertain times. Below are six strategies to test and add to your “mental health toolbox.”
Routine – Human beings thrive when we know what to expect and feel safe knowing our next step. You may still be trying to recover from when the pandemic interrupted your old routine. The good news is that you can create a new one. Don’t get overwhelmed by creating a rigid all-day routine. An approach like this can also lead to failure. Instead, be realistic and create a routine during certain parts of your day where you are most likely to keep it. Create a morning routine that includes drinking water, showering, and eating a fast, balanced meal. At the same time, taking a lunch break that includes eating outside for fresh air can help. The key is consistency and honoring the commitment to yourself.
Nourish your mind – We are often reminded that we should nourish our bodies; how often do we make sure to nourish our minds? Nurturing our minds is essential for our mental well-being, as it helps us stay positive and hopeful. It also helps us make sense of our experiences. We have so many different options with the technology that exists today! Listen to an audiobook on your daily journey, find an inspiring podcast, follow inspiring accounts on your social networks, download a positive affirmation app on your phone.
Connect with your inner child – It’s easy to let yourself be enveloped by your responsibilities and forget what brings us genuine joy. Connect with your inner child and allow yourself to experience joy again. An excellent way to do this is to ask yourself what you enjoyed as a child. Maybe this is eating a treat you ate with your grandfather when you were a little boy, or singing your favorite song in the shower, maybe buying a book about dinosaurs to read before bed, or sitting down and painting again.
Practice mental presence (Mindfulness) – Accelerated lives often involve spending a lot of time thinking about what to do. We spend so much time thinking about the future as the present moment passes by. Take a moment and practice mental presence in small (or large) ways when you notice your mind going into the future and tying up in stressful thoughts. A great way to practice mental presence is to stop what you’re doing and realize what’s happening around you. What sounds can you hear? What sensations do you feel? Focus on your five senses and bring your mind to the present with this exercise. Another way is to focus on your breathing or realize what you’re thinking. Mental presence helps us interrupt our anxious thoughts and helps us root in the now. If you feel like you want something more involved, look for a mindfulness meditation on YouTube or download a mindfulness app on your phone.
Download useful apps – Our phones or tablets can be beneficial for our mental health, which can be surprising to some! Nowadays, many apps can help us practice positive activities; whether you prefer it because you are always on the move or because you have accessibility needs, you might just prefer your phone. Search your app store for daily apps, mindfulness apps, wellness apps, habit tracking apps, affirmation apps, even coloring apps, karaoke apps, word game apps, anything that can help you regulate when you are overwhelmed!
Get organized – When we know what to do, we devote less time and energy to worrying. Create a “things to do” list, use a calendar, place a family calendar on the refrigerator, or quickly write down what you need to get from the store. Taking steps to make your life easier in the future will minimize worry. The best thing is that you can also do all these things on your phone!
There are many coping strategies available to us. Sometimes, you just need to find some that work for you. I encourage you to try any strategy that catches your eye and make modifications if necessary! The most important thing is to take a deep breath, slow down and see how much you have already acc