5 Ways To Protect Your Mental Health During The Coronavirus Pandemic

Psychotherapist Nikita Banks offers some important tips on staying mentally strong in a pandemic.

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By Nikita Banks

(AllHipHop Opinion) COVID-19 has shattered our sense of safety and if we have a strong sense of insecurity in any or all areas of our life (emotional insecurity, financial insecurity, or food insecurity…) this has been a very trying time. When this is all over we have to examine the lessons that we all learn from this experience and use this as a guideline to make the proactive changes necessary to make sure we chose our safety above all.

But this is secondary. When we face such a dangerous safety risk, along with a total disruption of our norms the first thing we do is go into survival mode. People of color are masters at surviving but when presented with sudden danger we all deploy our own set of learned coping skills. But it is important to prioritize your mental health which is the foundation of your health overall. Stress has an adverse negative effect on your immune system which is your most important ally in the battle against this virus. When you are stressed “stress hormones,” such as cortisol is released and it puts us at a higher risk for hypertension, heart disease, increase blood sugar and can actually affect weight gain. Cortisol also blocks serotonin which can lead to symptoms of depression. All things that put us at a disadvantage for recovery if you contract the virus.

So here are some five simple steps you can take to make sure you come out of this with your health intact holistically.

Be kind to yourself:

If you are lucky enough to get to work from home don’t feel bad that you slept late, took that afternoon nap, or rolled out of bed to take that Zoom meeting. This is different from our norm. Give yourself time to get adjusted to what your new normal is. It is normal to have more vivid dreams and even nightmares, sleepless nights and hypersomnia.

Don’t let those memes about how you should be spending the time guilt you or shame you into feeling as if you aren’t being as productive as you should take every minute, moment, day in stride and let your feelings set your own pace, not some external standard set by people you don’t know.

Try to maintain a sense of normalcy where you can:

If you have a habit of visiting mom daily make sure you make it a call or a FaceTime. If you have your Starbucks latte daily see if you can make it at home. Where you can do the normal things you are used to. Normalcy creates a sense of calm. We all like our routines, because they are soothing. Most people don’t respond well to sudden change. If you are in one of the hard-hit states you are definitely feeling it. We have all been doing the best we can to keep our spirits up aka club quarantine and the Dj battles. But nothing beats connecting with family and friends when and how you can in this day and age. Celebrate your wins, birthdays and anniversaries, with friends who love you. This is just a time to add creativity to the mix.

Control what you can:

The one scary thing about this virus and the government’s response to it is that it all seems out of our control. This is a time to look at the things from a strength perspective where you assess the areas in your life that you can control such as social distancing, staying at home when you can. 

I am not a medical doctor but all the current medical advice points that by social distancing, not touching contaminated surfaces and then our face, nose and eyes and leaning effective hand washing techniques. But to be honest these are things that will protect our homes from the flu, the common cold, and good for food safety. As long as we are measured in our response and aren’t overreacting about how we respond to this tragedy it will be helpful for us, to look at areas in our life where things are actually good. Revisit your budget, pay what bills you can, and make a list of things to get to when things get better. And if you feel the area of control is a struggle for you make sure you go back to tip number one. In this day and age the kindness of others is very apparent and there are a lot of resources out there to help you. There are many community-based organizations and resources in your area that may help and there are a lot of professionals out there willing to assist you, at the very least find clarity or solutions to some of the issues you are facing.

Grieve all the losses, not just death:

This is unprecedented that we may deal with the physical loss of a loved one without an opportunity to hug, and kiss them goodbye as they lay sick in their hospital bed. To lose multiple family members is a tragedy many of us don’t even want to think about but to go through all that and not have the ritual of gathering together as a family to hug and comfort each other as we gather to pay our respects, mourn together at funerals and wakes is simply unimaginable. But this is a reality for thousands of people all over the country. And some of our losses might not be as great as the loss of a loved one or the chance to say a proper goodbye there are a lot of us experiencing other losses.

Depending on which grief framework you chose there are 5-7 stages of grief and I think we are going through most of them. The first being shock and denial. I am a therapist here in Brooklyn, New York, in the epicenter of the national pandemic. I can identify with the shock we all must have felt when we were not only told to shelter in place but we may have to do so for months. We are all in both a state of shock and disappointment and there is a mourning period for those of us who had big events to look forward to. for some social distancing will result in loneliness. 

While some of us will escape enough symptoms to measure up to the clinician criteria for depression the sadness we will feel at the losses we will experience during these times will be immeasurable. If the lockdown continues there will be some very large milestones a lot of our youth will have to forego. From graduations, proms, dances, birthday celebrations, dates, and firsts.

 The have a right to these feelings of loss and they should be felt and honored. The last step is acceptance and rebuilding, once we realize this is our new normal we will be able to view this time as a time to invest in your self-care and see this if nothing else as a sign from the universe for us to slow down and be present. Find things to do that you enjoy, read your favorite book learn a skill, binge watch your favorite series or just sleep in late without guilt. So in times like this allowing them the space to be present with their feelings and knowing it’s part of the human experience can go a long way.

Seek help where you can:

A lot of us struggle with asking for help. It’s not natural to most people especially when we don’t expect help will be available when there are so many people in need but actually now is probably the best time to ask since people are currently at their most generous. If you have ever thought about going to a therapist or a counselor now is the best time to try it out and there are a lot of low cost and free options. NYC residents have a number of options like NYC Well, the governor’s coronavirus hotline are some free resources. Nationally, the court of innovations has drop-in clinics and NAMI (Nation Alliance on Mental Illness) have free and low-cost resources. And if you have insurance most insurance companies have EAP (Employee Assistance Programs) which provides a number of free sessions to their members and most insurance companies are currently waiving co-pays for therapy appointments so money should not be an obstacle to getting the help you need. 

The lack of vitamin D, the release of stress hormone, disruption of norms and the lack of physical contact can all have negative effects on our mental health. And if you are prone to mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety meeting regularly with a therapist/psychiatrist telephonically, can teach you the necessary healthy coping skills to navigate any challenges. A therapist can also normalize your experiences and help you explore your feelings about what is going on, and therapy is great to help you prioritizing problem-solving.

Feel free to contact me if you have any more questions I look forward to speaking with you and I hope this helps.

Nikita Banks, LCSW I am a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in Brooklyn New York and I am also the author of Finding Happy Seven Steps To Relationships That Will Not Steal Your Joy.