Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness Month? It’s an important month to celebrate (be mindful of?) every year, but it’s especially important in 2020. By this point, we’ve been quarantining for several weeks and slowly some states are opening back up. Is it the right time? Is it too soon? The numbers will be able to tell us in a few weeks, but in the meantime, how are we supposed to deal with the anxiety that we’ve been experiencing for weeks and may even be increasing now?
That’s the question that Girls’ Night In, a website dedicated to the practice of taking care, recently asked a group of therapists. This Q&A offers a lot of good insight and answers some of the questions you may have been wondering but haven’t gotten the answers to yet like what to do about your psychosomatic symptoms, how to handle the collective trauma of a pandemic, and what’s the deal with these vivid dreams I’ve been having lately? Here’s an excerpt on feeling grief during this time.
Talking through feelings of loss or working through anger related to loss with positive coping (such as exercise) can support how we move through grief in a healthy manner. It can help us cope when we know what to expect; however, COVID-19 is quite unpredictable. Grief is also unpredictable. Therefore, it’s important to work on letting go of the control of our emotions and understand that each day will be different and it’s normal to have good days and bad days.
Focusing on our mental health is a vital part of getting through this together, even (especially) if we’re alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone — a friend, a family member, a clergy member, a counselor. We don’t have to deal with this and every emotion it can bring alone. For more information, see our Community Resources page.
We all want to stay informed, but is there a point at which compulsively checking for new headlines and inundating ourselves with the latest stats and on confirmed cases and deaths, details on the origins of the virus, what world leader is saying and doing what right now? According to psychiatrist and habit change specialist Dr. Jud Brewer, there is. And that tipping point might be right now.
In his article “Breaking Your Addiction to Breaking News,” Dr. Brewer explains some of the neuroscience behind why we love breaking news so much. But he also cautions that reading bad news can make you anxious, something you probably don’t need or want right now. Luckily, he offers a few tips on how to stop the the ancient part of your brain from seeking out headline after headline for that next dopamine hit, like:
Set yourself a frequency limit for checking the news. “I will only check the news twice a day.” And stick to it!
Set yourself a time limit for checking the news during those occasions you’ve allotted yourself. “I will only look at the news for 10 minutes.”
Practice mindfulness. I thought this one was very interesting! After you’ve read a piece of news, stop and check in with yourself. Ask yourself “what did I get from reading that? How do I feel now after reading that?” Dr. Brewer goes into more detail about how this trick works. Brains are so cool.
So, if you’re still struggling with the emotions that news brings you, but you can’t seem to stop, maybe what’s best right now is to acknowledge those emotions and step back from it. Give Dr. Brewer a read (and he links to some other great info as well) and break the habit.
Whether we’re finding ourselves with more free time than before or we’re trying to perform our normal job duties from the new, monotonous, often chaotic home “offices,” we’re likely all feeling the pressure to be productive. Very productive. Just as productive as we normally are. Or, improbably, moreproductive, if only to prove that we’re not going to let this pandemic get in our way.
You know what? Maybe some of us do have the energy to do that. But for the vast majority of us, we’re struggling, we’re maybe even barely holding it together. How are we expected to be more productive if we barely have energy for our (new) normal lives?
translates to ‘the absence of conversation,’ and generally means ’too bored.’ It’s not just bored — the ‘too’ is key, describing the kind of extreme restless energy born from an overabundance of time and a scarcity of substance. In French, enfiler des perles — to string pearls — gets at this same idea. In Spanish, it’s comerse un cable (to chew on a cable); in boricua Spanish, pajareando (sitting around like a bird). Russians have duraka valyat and duryu mayatsya. But as far as I know, there’s no English word that adequately describes boredom as an art form, the specific mindset in which spectacularly chaotic, meaningless bullshit springs to life.
Wuliao, then, is the art of creating something out of nothing, creating productivity out of boredom — not out of a sense of obligation at being productive, but out of pure, mind-numbing boredom. Where could your mind take you if you just let it… do whatever it wants?
What I love about wuliao is that it treats the output of extreme boredom with the actual reverence it deserves, even when it’s wielded as a pejorative: the utter nonsense of a project, the sheer amount of labor in service of nothing really, the total waste of time and brainpower in the pursuit of a craft that’s only value is its tedium. Boredom is baking focaccia. Wuliao is creating a full Turkish meal in miniature, with kabobs the size of dates and a cheese künefe pastry as wee as a silver dollar. Wuliao is using every eyeshadow you own to paint your legs like a rainbow fish.
Give her article a read for more examples and see what you can do when you give yourself the space to just be bored!
Even during normal times, making sure we have the time and the energy for… anything can be a challenge. During a quarantine, a lot of people are finding that it’s even harder. Are you struggling trying to figure out how to take care of every single member of your household, your extended family, and your friends — let alone yourself? Are you alone and fraught with worry, frozen by the fear and anxiety? Are you in survival mode?
Breathe. It’s okay. We all are. That’s why it’s maybe more important now than ever to take stock. Prioritize things that need to be done and people you need to take care of. And don’t forget that you are one of those people. Perhaps even the most important person. You cannot draw energy to take care of others if your well is empty.
Vice recently published a thought-provoking article about making a care budget for yourself. Check it out here. It lays out the steps for founding your budget and making sure you can keep it stocked.
The gist is this: prioritize. Remember that not everything has to be done right now. Not everyone needs your constant attention. Pay attention to the signs that your body gives you about being run down, hungry, short-tempered, and adjust accordingly. Replenish your well, or your budget, so that you can draw from it to take of things that need to be done. But remember this isn’t a race. There is no yardstick against which you will be measured at the end of this. You know yourself better than anyone. After all, we’re all doing the best we can.
So think about what you need to replenish your well. Think about what you need to do and what small steps you can do to complete them. This quote from the article sums it up quite well:
As you get going, you may start to think that if doing a little is good, doing a lot is even better. This is not true. The best thing you can do in this moment is to be realistic. Think about what you can do now, during a global crisis where a trip to the grocery store requires the mental preparation and acuity normally reserved for taking the LSAT, not what you could achieve in the world of three months ago, where conveniences like Ubers, free two-day shipping, spontaneous drinks at a bar, and hugs still existed.
This is what self-care looks like. It’s not just face masks and bath bombs — though, those are great! Self-care is about figuring out what you need to keep going. And above all else, self-care is about compassion — for others, but most importantly for yourself.
We’re going to be at home like this for a while, and things are likely going to get worse before they get better, so resist the urge to go all-out. It’s good for absolutely no one if you burn through your reserves and flame out early on—and, if you need to reason with yourself about this sometimes in order not to go too overboard, remind yourself that you’ll be more helpful in the long run if you’re considerate and selective about your care in the short-term.
The emergence and quick spread of COVID-19 has made us all reassess our lives — what we’re doing, what we want to do, what we’ve had to shift to an alternate course, and what we’ve had to postpone or cancel. We’re in our homes more (good! And bad!) and in public places less (good! And bad!). Everything about every single one of our lives has changed, and with that change comes a million different emotions. And every one of those emotions is valid.
Let’s repeat and make it personal: every one of my emotions right now is valid.
As we each navigate these — let’s admit it — truly bizarre times, we have to remember that we’re each processing the change, the fear, the hope in different ways and at different paces. It’s not a race, it’s a spectrum.
While some people may be able to turn this self-isolation and quarantine into a time of relaxation, or may feel bursts of creativity during their newfound time at home, not all of us feel that way. A great number of us are stressed out or rightfully scared. It’s important to remember to take a moment and sit with those feelings and see what those emotions are telling us.
This Isn’t a Normal Time
If you’re like me, you’re trying to get on with your life the best you can: working from home, taking classes from home, getting fresh air from the open window or going for a quick walk in the evening where you can be away from other people. You may also be like me and you’ve felt overcome with emotion while trying to do things that wouldn’t have caused you to even bat an eye when things were normal.
But it’s important to remember that this isn’t a normal time. A friend recently said something to me while I was expressing my deep fear and anger at feeling the pressure to maintain normal productivity while working and schooling from home — and I could just hear the proverbial record scratch when it sunk in. She said, “you are allowed to mourn your normal life.”
Mourn. I hadn’t considered that that’s what I was doing. Mourning. My life B.C. Before COVID-19. My life when I could do what I wanted, when I wanted. My life when I could go into a crowded park without a second thought. When I could drive across town to visit friends. Or maybe when you could send your kids off to school, or visit your elderly parents. When we could go into our offices, see our doctors, go to our grocery stores without worrying about staying at least six feet away from people or coating ourselves in hand sanitizer (if we could find it), without constantly being on the hunt for more toilet paper. Allow yourself to mourn.
Grieve What Was and What Wasn’t—But Grow With It
We can grieve for the way life was and for the plans that had to be cancelled, but we also have to learn to grow from it. To grow with it. Denying that anything has changed is doing yourself a disservice because things are changing whether you want them to or not. Take a moment to yourself to reflect on it. Clinging to the lives that we knew don’t serve us right now either. Hopefully in a couple of months we can get back to a semblance of the way we used to live, but it’s helps more now to acknowledge the change and move forward without looking back. Instead, try to replace these negative reactions with opportunities for growth.
We don’t all have to be the next expert bread baker if we’re tired. We don’t have to be the next TikTok sensation if we’re worried about still having to go to work every day, or caring or children, or for ourselves or family members if they get sick. These people are outliers and we need to recognize them as such. Instead, give yourself the space to process. Get creative in a different kind of way.
Find ways to take a deep breath once a day. Get everyone quarantined together to do it.
Find alternate ways to let our your excess energy by singing, painting, dancing, or just allowing yourself five minutes for frenetic movement.
Find alternate ways to see your friends by hosting virtual video happy hours. Video chat with grandparents so they can read your kids bedtime stories.
Find a way to be yourself and to feel yourself during these unknowable, uncertain times. If you are reading this, you are still here and you are still allowed to occupy space even if it looks different than before.
Learn to Thrive Again
You may not have the bandwidth and free time that other people may — don’t let social medial lie to you and make you think everyone but you does — but what you can do is learn from this. Learn about yourself and about others. Learn to breathe. Learn to confide in others. We’re all in this together. Learn to redirect your energy. Learn to mourn and learn to accept that our old lives are done for now. But things will go back to a new normal — after we’ve done our part to “flatten the curve,” after scientists way smarter than most of us could ever hope to be develop a way to treat and eradicate this.
Touch deprivation (sometimes called skin hunger) happens when we have little or no physical contact with another person. This might seem strange, but physical touch is more important than you think. There have been various research studies and experiments on the subject.
According to the Nordic Cuddling, a company in the UK which specializes in the art and therapy of cuddling, there are seven signs you might be suffering from touch deprivation.
Body image issues
High stress levels
Mental health issues like depression
Fear of attachment and unsatisfying relationship.
You can read more about these signs here on their website..
HOW DO YOU HANDLE TOUCH DEPRIVATION DURING SELF-ISOLATION?
Many cultures around the world feature touch in everyday lives in an integral way. But many places, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and other European countries are already considered touch-deprived nations. While we self-isolate during this time of COVID-19, it’s important to remember the importance of our sense of touch.
If you live with friends or loved ones
If you are lucky enough to live with friends or loved ones (and you are symptom free), try to touch or hug every day. If that’s not something all parties are comfortable with, try to establish or maintain emotional and intimate relationships. The human connection during this time is important.
If you live alone
Being alone during self-isolation or quarantine is especially difficult. Though physical tough may be out of the question in the name of personal and community safety, there are ways to simulate human touch. If you have animals, pet and cuddle them as often as you can. It’s not human contact, but it’s a good substitute.Taking hot baths or showers are also useful in keeping our sensory “muscles” active. The same goes for wrapping yourself in a soft, warm blanket. Touch as many things with “texture” as you can. Above all else, rememberers to maintain your human connections through conversation. Call or text loved ones — or better yet, utilize any number of video chat services. The next best thing to face-to-face connection can help us feel closer to normal during these abnormal times. And remember, the isolation won’t last forever.
For more reading on touch deprivation and the power of cuddling, check out these links.