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As I tell all my patients – as well as friends and family – one of the most important factors of mental health is our physical health: a nutritious diet, sufficient sleep, and regular exercise, 3-5 times per week, preferably outside. If you do these things, you will find it much easier to maintain a sense of calm.
However, especially if you have been personally affected by the pandemic or the unrest in the city, you will need more than just a healthy lifestyle. You will need to take proactive steps to ward off or reverse feelings of anxiety or depression that may be creeping up on you.
Take a weekly mental health self-examination. How have you been feeling or behaving this past week? Have you been moody, short-tempered, or more sensitive than normal? Or maybe that is your new normal? How have you been sleeping? Eating? Are you keeping your routine, or have you lost interest in things, feeling “blah” or unmotivated? These behaviors or feelings could all be signs that your mental health has been compromised. Try these strategies:
- Go on an “information diet.” Have a time limit for reading/watching information about the pandemic, the social unrest, or whatever else may be disturbing you. And even if you have a time limit, if on a particular day you are feeling particularly vulnerable, don’t turn on the news or check your newsfeed! Focus on your own health and decide in favor of your own peace. You can’t help anyone if you can’t help yourself.
- Think about the present moment, where you are right now. This is called “mindfulness.” It is very relaxing to stop and pay attention to your senses, what you’re hearing, feeling, touching… this is especially valuable if you place yourself in an atmosphere that is pleasant to you: in a park with trees and birds or in a quiet room with restful music and a soft chair.
- Practice deep breathing exercises to calm your mind or your heart rate. Prayer has been found to help reduce anxiety and increase feelings of peace. Gratitude lists, new hobbies (and I don’t mean binge-watching a new TV show), decluttering, and brain games are all ways to distract yourself by filling your mind with positive thoughts or valuable new knowledge.
- Reach out to others for positive personal interactions. Hang out with friends. Find people who can support you when you’re feeling anxious and help direct you to more peaceful feelings. It can be difficult to choose some of the activities I listed above on one’s own. If you have a friend or support group, you can get encouragement and accountability to help you stay on a healthy path.
If you try these strategies and you’re still feeling significant anxiety or depression, reach out to a professional who is an expert in helping people through traumatic experiences.
If there are any children in your life, be sure to watch them for any signs of stress or anxiety. You will need to be mentally healthy yourself in order to give them a sense of security and safety during this time.
If you have experienced violence, know that your feelings of anger or fear are natural responses based on our fight-or-flight instinct and that sometimes that instinct just doesn’t know when to turn off. Get professional help. Don’t wait. With the right thought patterns and actions, you can move forward, beyond the violence, and take back your mental peace.