How to manage your mental health during pandemic

Its not easy being faced with a global pandemic and living in the world of unknown for months. Ideally, we would love for someone to have an answer to all of our questions and put our minds at ease. Unfortunately these are “the unprecedented” times and the unknown can cause quite the anxiety for many. I have struggled with anxiety for a brief while about 3 years ago and let me tell you, during your low moments, your mind can go to very dark and scary place. I have put together a list of few things that has helped me, and I hope this may be of some comfort to you even if its just to know someone else is going through or has been through a similar thing.

  1. Exercise

Why does everyone say its important to exercise when you’re stressed and anxious? You release the tension in your body, you give your feelings an outlet. By exercising you increase your heart rate which tells your body that increased heart rate doesn’t always mean a panic attack is coming on. (You basically are trying to “train” your body to acknowledge increased heart rate can also be caused by a positive thing.) By exercising regularly you will start feeling better about yourself and your body, you will have a better self image and as a result you will be more positive. Exercise will also give you more energy, which means you won’t continuously feel tired and lay on the couch.

2. Walking

I suppose you could classify this as a part of your exercise, however walking is so much more. During the pandemic walking can be the only activity where you will encounter other people. A lot of us may live alone, work from home and get so used to being in our own bubble that we isolate ourselves unknowingly. Get out there, get fresh air in your lungs, erase the feeling of claustrophobia of your four walls. If you’re uncomfortable walking on your own and/or your friends are busy I invite you to put on a podcast and go anyway. Podcasts are a great way to think you’re with someone, as they are generally conversations you listen to. It will get your mind off of your thoughts and on many occasions I have laughed out loud as if I was with a friend. Need a pick me up podcast? Some of my favorites are “The Cringe Binge”; “You’re wrong about” and “The Good Glow”. The Good Glow isn’t humorous – its about a girl who has beat cancer and now invites others to speak about their life challenges and wins and how they take care of themselves. They are not all illness related, but it really puts things into perspective, that others might be in a much worse position than us.

3. Cut down on caffeine

This is a very common one, however its easier said than done. It’s like someone telling you to quit smoking & go cold turkey. It most likely won’t work. This is why I am happy to provide you with alternatives, lets not give up everything nice in our life! Buy decaf – I know this sounds almost too simple, however how many people when they hear about giving up on caffeine stop drinking coffee altogether? There are plenty of healthy alternatives to chose from and still enjoy the taste you love so much! In most grocery shops you will be able to buy Tim Hortons French Vanilla Decaf. The same applies to tea. If you’re fan of dizzy drinks (or as my Canadian friends would call it pop) then fear no more. I found a perfect substitute for sugary coke or Pepsi. Buy sparkling water and Cool aid and voila! You still get the feeling of drinking fizzy and sugary but its nowhere near as bad for you. (and you increase your water intake).

4. Breathing & Meditation

This should be practiced on daily basis, regardless if you’re having a good day or an awful day. You should practice mindfulness and take time out for yourself everyday not just when you’re half way into a panic attack. These things cannot be done ad hoc or whenever things start to fall apart. Its hard to train your brain into doing these things when you feel okay, but if you do them you will notice the effects of your attacks will be milder, as you will be calmer, you will welcome this sensation and you will let it pass through as you will know you will come out ok on the other side.

5. Acknowledge Your Thoughts

When I first started having anxiety, I was so overwhelmed and scared of the physical sensation of it, that I would want to crawl into my bed and cry for hours. Hide from the world, and the only time I felt okay was when my husband was right next to me. I couldn’t even go to work, I’d get these awful panic attacks and I would cry hysterically. I went to therapy few times and that’s when I learned about acknowledging your thoughts. Not many people know that the cycle of anxiety is like this:

Thoughts –> They Fuel Emotions –> Emotions fuel Feeling in your Body

When you get these provoking thoughts (and I know they come) this is what you do: Do NOT try and chase them away, don’t try to forget, because – it will not work & it will only get worse. You must practice acknowledging your thoughts, for example: You have a thought, a scary one, an unpleasant one – you don’t immediately try and forget or stress about it, you acknowledge its come to you, you give it a moment of “attention” and then you put it away in one of your “storage baskets”. This sounds bizarre, but believe me if you practice this on regular basis your mind will “welcome” those thoughts after awhile and they will no longer pose a threat to your mental well being. After sometime you wont even know the bad thoughts from good thoughts in your head. They will continue existing without affecting you. It all takes time, dedication and training.

When you give thoughts too much time and you panic, your thoughts fuel those sad, angry and scared emotions. These emotions in turn fuel your feelings – physical feeling of pain, faint, nausea, headache and many others. Don’t give thoughts the opportunity to run your life. Give them a moment of your time & pack them away.

Recently I heard this analogy which I thought was superb and perhaps will resonate with you even if its the only thing you have taken out of this whole post.

“Let your thoughts come in the front door & out the back door, but don’t invite them for tea”

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