We made it. We survived the first grueling years of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are turning a corner, and there are finally glimpses of hope. Even as we stretch our faith and look forward to brighter days, some of us are still struggling. We have not escaped the cumulative impact of loneliness, loss, social isolation, death, grief, being without basic needs, financial ruin, and living in fear for the past two years. Our collective trauma has been exacerbated by the impact of racism in our country and the all too prevalent mass shootings. Emotionally, many of us are not well. Rates of anxiety, depression, suicide, grief, and trauma remain high; so much so that it is has become more difficult to access quality mental health resources for those in need.
There is acknowledgement, even from government officials, of the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the mental health of Americans, especially among Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and those from under resourced communities. In his first State of the Union address, President Biden announced his strategy to create policies and funding to expand access to quality mental health services. Further, there has been legislation proposed by lawmakers to improve Black maternal mental health outcomes via the Black Momnibus.
With the commitment from our federal and local governments to address mental health from a global perspective there are reasons to be hopeful. We are optimistic that those seeking mental health services will, at some point, see improvements in access to care, and that those providing services will receive equitable and fair reimbursement for the services they provide. This may take time; time that we do not have to spare because the lives and wellbeing of our families and communities are at stake.
While we wait for legislation to pass, policies to be put in place, and resources to reach the front lines of mental health care, what can we do to improve our emotional well-being during this phase of the pandemic and in the wake of pervasive social injustice and mass shootings?
- If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal seek help immediately. Crisis resources are listed below period
- Access the resources that are available. While access to quality mental health services may be limited, it can still be helpful to contact providers in your area. If the provider or organization has a waitlist for individual, couples, or family therapy, ask about access to support groups, therapy groups, and coping skills workshops that can bridge the gap until the services you seek can be obtained.
- Consider the use of reputable virtual therapy platforms that may be low-cost and have shorter or no waitlists.
- Utilize phone applications that include self-assessments of symptoms related to anxiety, depression, trauma, poor sleep, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and conditions. Many of these will also include coping skills.
- Support legislation and advocacy for mental health. Your voice matters and your vote for local government officials matters. Use both to ensure that mental health advocacy is a priority.
- Practice meditation. Meditation is the practice of focusing on our present moment and ridding our mind of distraction. When we focus on our current moment, it gives us a brief respite from our worries about the future and the past.
- Don’t forget to breathe. We all need to be reminded of the impact of deep cleansing breaths on our mental health and wellness. Taking two or three dep breaths (inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth) can have an immediate impact on your body’s physiological response to stress. When things get stressful, take a deep breath.
- Connect with your community and do something to help others. Research shows that shifting your focus to help others promotes emotional wellness. Volunteer or think of something you can do to make someone else’s life better.
- Focus on the positive. The mind is a powerful tool. When we focus on the good around us, it reminds us that there is a reason to remain hopeful.
- Engage in some form of physical activity daily. Walk around your home, up the stairs, or in your neighborhood. Try wall pushups or squats. Always consult your doctor before trying a new rigorous activity and know your limits. If these options are not feasible, just try to sit less. Movement is healthy for your body and your mind.
- Limit foods that contain high quantities of fat, sugar, and salt and avoid eating to manage your emotions (e.g., stress, anxiety, boredom, loneliness). Consuming highly palatable foods or engaging in emotional eating can result in excess weight, decreased energy, and affect your mood.
- Find something to laugh about or something that brings you joy. Laughter releases hormones in the brain that improve our moods.
- Write out your thoughts. There is something powerful about writing what we are feeling. It allows the things we have been holding in to come out, and for some, this is the only outlet we have to express our most challenging emotions. It can also be a powerful reminder of other challenging times we have survived. We have all survived something and remembering that can be helpful.
- Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and other substances to elevate or improve your mood. Most substances have side effects and unintended consequences beyond the temporary high.
- For those who to whom this is relevant, pray. Pray for peace and healing for our world.
This list is not exhaustive but provides some steps each of us can take to manage the emotional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and other stressors. One step at a time, one moment at a time, we will get better. Our thoughts and prayers are with all the family members and communities affected by the tragic mass shootings.