Depending on which state you live in, you’re either still sheltering in place or slowly making the transition back to everyday life. But regardless of which coronavirus pandemic “phase” you’re in, there’s a whole lot that doesn’t feel normal—and probably won’t for a while.
Adapting to the new realities of daily life during these turbulent times has put the topic of mental health front and center—and no one knows that better than the counselors and therapists dedicated to supporting others’ emotional well-being.
“I am in awe of the strength of the human spirit that is navigating the uncharted territory of the coronavirus pandemic,” says holistic counselor and therapist Maja Nuoffer, L.M.F.T.
Sara Makin, M.S.Ed., N.C.C., L.P.C., founder of Makin Wellness, says she’s inspired by her work because “I think our clients need us now more than ever.”
She’s right in her assertion: Last month, calls to the U.S. helpline for people experiencing emotional distress jumped nearly 900 percent compared to the same time last year.
And don’t forget, mental health experts are just as human as the rest of us. “Although deeply grateful to offer my clients a space in which they may share their experiences and I can help them unburden the weight of the current state of the world, I find myself carrying a heavier load,” says Nuoffer.
So how do the people we go to for sanity checks keep their own sanity in check? Here, they share the coping mechanisms and self-care practices that have helped them stay well throughout the pandemic.
1. A Gentler Morning Routine
“I’ve learned to set my alarm using a ‘slow rise’ tone, which softly wakes me up from my sleep, instead of a traditional, jarring alarm that ignites a mini-panic attack,” says Nuoffer. Then, after she’s eased into a state of wakefulness, she spends a minute or two doing some gentle stretching in bed before opening up her shutters and greeting the day.
Consider how you can ease into your morning slowly, and try to carve out a few minutes for yourself before starting your to-do list. (We love this 11-minute morning yoga practice from Yoga with Adriene on YouTube.)
Many mental health experts identify meditation as an excellent way to stay grounded—and for good reason. “Meditation has been clinically proven to reduce stress and anxiety and promote relaxation,” says Makin. “It has also been shown to increase resilience to stress.” (FYI: It’s good for sleep, too.)
“A meditation practice can be done at any point in the day, but I’ve found it to be most helpful in the morning,” says Makin. She typically meditates by focusing on her breath for 2-to-10 minutes. You can also include a simple mantra like “Be” as you inhale and “Calm” as you exhale.
If you need some guidance, try an app like Headspace, which recently made its Headspace Plus membership free for all unemployed Americans for one year. (It also unlocked free premium memberships for teachers and healthcare workers.)
3. Writing Down Anxieties
“Just as talking about the thoughts in your head can be a release, so can writing them down,” suggests Dr. Grand McDonald, PsyD, of Clarity Clinic in Chicago. “Many therapists utilize journaling to express their anxieties or worries related to the future. It provides a space to reflect and process their concerns.”
When you feel anxiety come on, set a timer for five minutes and write down a list of everything on your mind. Once you’ve jotted down your worries, either close your journal or tear up the page for a cathartic release, McDonald says.
4. Gratitude Lists
Every night, Nicole Arzt, L.M.F.T., a Southern California-based therapist and content contributor for Invigor Medical, spends 60 seconds writing down the three best parts of her day. “It doesn’t matter how big these things are,” she says. “The other night, I wrote down how delicious my cup of coffee tasted.”
This practice helps even seemingly little things feel like major wins. You’ll be surprised at how much appreciation you feel for that successful round of gin rummy with your dad or the discovery of a nearby park. Sometimes, the best part of your day might be the fact that the dishwasher worked—and that’s okay, too.
“Research continues to highlight the perks associated with gratitude,” says Arzt. “Identifying my gratitude always helps me feel more grounded and optimistic. It also helps me remember that there are so many good parts of my life that deserve recognition.”
5. Lighting Candles
“Every day I light candles that smell pleasant to me,” says Nikki Winchester, Psy.D, owner of the Cincinnati Center for DBT. “I burn candles all day while I work from home and at night while I’m relaxing. I am very soothed by pleasant smells, so burning candles helps make life more pleasant right now.”
Making your home environment feel more Zen with candles can help you feel calmer, she says. If nothing else, it’ll keep the smell of the kitchen from distracting you from your workflow.
If you don’t love candles, aromatherapy diffusers are also a nice option. Lavender essential oil, for example, is known for promoting relaxation—and may be a particularly helpful scent to use when things feel unmanageable at home.
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