No one would argue that the events of the past few months—from a global health crisis to national unrest over social injustice—have made our already stressful lives feel practically overwhelming. Having difficulty balancing your emotions? Same here.
“The entire range of emotions comes up during times of upheaval,” says marriage and family therapist Shari Foos, M.F.T., N.M. “It’s normal to feel empowered one day and anxious or depressed the next as we try to understand and survive through difficult times of change.”
A lot of this stems from the sense of utter lack of control many people are experiencing.
“Most people want a sense of control and certainty in their lives, and right now that is lacking,” says Dr. Allison Forti, Ph.D., L.C.M.H.C., N.C.C., associate director of the Wake Forest University’s Online Master’s in Counseling Program. “For example, people are wondering when the pandemic will end and how they should navigate their novel circumstances—especially if they are experiencing health concerns, income loss, isolation from friends and family, working from home with children, or a lack of access to their traditional coping mechanisms.”
Though it’s totally normal to be riding the emotional rollercoaster right now, it is possible to find a sense of stability amidst the stress. Here, mental health experts share how to balance your mood—and conjure mental strength—through it all.
1. Be Strategic About Your News Consumption
Regardless of what’s happening out in the world, watching the news is often stressful. Being strategic about when you engage with it can help you keep your mood more stable.
“Choose a time in the middle of the day, rather than in the morning or at night,” suggests psychologist Dr. Jenny Yip, Psy.D., A.B.P.P. “This way, you can refocus your attention onto other pleasurable activities after listening or watching, and eliminate anxious rumination.”
2. Focus on what you can control
To keep the dark swirl of uncertainty from swallowing you up, make a point to reflect on what you can control about your life right now, suggests Dr. E Hanh Le, M.D., director of medical affairs for Healthline Media. “Once you realize that you still have some control over the situation, then you no longer feel powerless,” he says. Even tiny wins make a difference.
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A couple of things, in particular, to think about:
- You cannot control when you’ll return to your office. However, you can make your work environment at home as productive and comfortable as possible in the meantime.
- You may not be able to personally save the lives of those infected with COVID-19 or spend your days marching for social justice. However, you can prevent the transmission of coronavirus by practicing physical distancing and support organizations fighting for equality.
Take inventory by writing down a list of the things you can’t control right now. Then, make a list of the things you can control.
3. Stay connected with others
“Staying connected to people may seem difficult in the age of social distancing, but a simple phone call, FaceTime, or Zoom meeting can elicit a physiological reaction that improves mood,” says Forti. “Create a routine of connecting with someone in your life daily, every other day, or weekly. The point is to make it a regular occurrence in your life.”
Make a list of those you want to stay in touch with and schedule time to connect with them just as you may schedule calls or meetings for work.
4. When In Doubt, Feel your heart
“When we are stressed out, our ‘fight or flight’ instinct activates, and we react with adrenaline-fueled panic,” says Foos.
In stressful moments, take a minute to feel your heartbeat and as you breathe, reassure yourself, Foos suggests. “This calms your nervous system and improves your mood and confidence.”
The next time stress threatens to carry you away:
- Place your hand on your heart and feel your heartbeat.
- Say or think, “I’ll be okay. I am here for myself.”
- Breathe and repeat until you feel able to slow down and think more clearly.
- Express gratitude for your ability to soothe yourself—and trust that you can handle whatever comes next.
5. Make a weekly list of personal goals
In stressful times, it’s especially important to make intentional space for anything that sparks joy and provides the opportunity for growth.
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To prioritize these personal goals, “make a list of five things you’d like to accomplish every week,” says Dr. Daryl Appleton, L.M.H.C., psychotherapist and Fortune 500 executive coach. “From that list, pick one and make it a priority.”
By doing this, you can prioritize activities, such as spending 30 minutes in the garden, alongside must-do tasks—and reap the benefits of taking time for yourself.
6. Use a self-compassion mantra
If you find yourself being extra critical or hard on yourself right now, know that it’s totally normal. “Self-critical thoughts or harsh evaluations of one’s self may strengthen during times of uncertainty and lack of control,” says Forti.
That doesn’t mean you can’t show yourself some extra kindness, though. “One way to practice self-compassion is to develop a mantra and use it to combat self-critical thinking that leads to a lower mood,” Forti says.
A few mantras to try might include:
- “I accept myself as I am.”
- “I am allowed to make mistakes like all humans.”
- “May I be kind and loving to myself.”
Your goal here: “Create a self-compassion mantra that best refutes your self-critical thinking, and repeat it every time your mind evaluates you harshly,” says Forti.
7. Keep a list of the positives
Given everything going on in the world, it’s easy to spiral into negative thinking and to feel weighed down. “Right now, we are grieving for the people, things, and activities that we cannot access,” says Le. “However, if you consider what we now have more of—specifically, time—then you can perhaps find some positives in the situation.”
- For some people, spending more time at home has meant spending more quality time with their family or taking up cooking or baking.
- Without the frequent pressure or opportunity to socialize, some have learned new skills or taken up a new language.
Keep a running list of any good things that have materialized during this time, even those as small as enjoying your coffee outside in the morning. When you’re feeling low, look back on your list.
8. Load up on certain nutrients
In addition to adopting various mood-balancing practices, making sure your body is well-stocked on certain nutrients can also help support your mental well-being.
First: omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to be beneficial for those experiencing mood issues, says Brittany Michels, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N., nutritionist for The Vitamin Shoppe. In fact, research suggests that people with depressive symptoms often have lower levels of certain polyunsaturated fatty acids, including omega-3s.
Michels’ go-to omega-3 supplement: Vthrive by The Vitamin Shoppe brand Premium Wild Alaskan Fish Oil.
Another must-have for maintaining a balanced mood: magnesium. “Magnesium helps prevent overstimulation of the neurons in the brain and can offer support for those struggling with mood,” says The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Rebekah Blakely, R.D.N. “A large percentage of the population does not consume enough magnesium—and high levels of stress can increase magnesium loss.”
To make the most of magnesium, consider adding a supplement like The Vitamin Shoppe brand Magnesium Glycinate to your daily routine.
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