The words "unsurpassed times" are widely used today, so let's say this: in early 2020, few people could have predicted that we would navigate a pandemic, several natural disasters, a massive social justice movement and a controversial election season at once – not to mention social isolation, Zoom meetings, working from home (possibly while managing your child's homework) and so on. It is a lot. So do not feel so bad if you have not taken the time to sit back and reflect on it.
Having said that, acknowledging the daily stress of what's going on – and processing the complicated feelings you may have about all of this – may be the most important work you can do when we begin a safe, unparalleled fall.
We contacted two licensed marriage and family therapists, Kim Egel and Deitra Baker, to learn how to take care of your mental health during COVID. They talked to us about when (and how) to change your daily routine and how you can prioritize self-care ̵
Accepting the "New Normal"
When the first COVID-related barriers began in March, many of us assumed that we would only need to quarantine for a few weeks. Now we can assume that we will wear masks, practice social distancing, avoid unnecessary travel and so on for the foreseeable future. "This is not going to be a sprint," Baker told us. "It's more a race of endurance."
Both Egel and Baker emphasized the importance of accepting the "new norm." You may be working from home – and your children can learn from home – much longer than you originally expected. We need to learn to evaluate different risks, from forming learning pods to participating in protests to setting up an outdoor visit to the grandparents. We may need to do all of this while dealing with natural disasters, such as the derecho that flattened the Midwest or the fires that covered the west coast – and we still need to prepare for flu season, colder weather and the holidays. (We apologize to you, but you still have to do your holiday shopping this year.)
We must also learn to evaluate our own mental health – and how we can adapt our lives to reduce the types of stress that can aggravate mental health problems. This can mean that you take more time for self-care than you had previously allowed yourself, especially if you are a busy parent who balances work and childcare during the ongoing pandemic. Baker, who regularly contributes to Mater Mea, a blog for black mothers, offers this analogy: “Many parents try to run out of the same gas tank. A while ago, we may have been able to regularly lose fuel in our cars, but now we have to upgrade to premium.
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Pay attention to your emotions
When people think about what it can mean to spend more time on self-care, they often jump directly to action objects such as "get more exercise" Or "download a meditation app." The first step in mental management is much easier than that – and in some ways much more difficult. All you have to do is stop, check in with yourself and pay attention to how you feel.
"People occupy the brain with things and tubes themselves with one task to the next, but they have not sat with the idea that life has changed, Baker explains. "Being able to sit with it is a good starting point."
Some people can do this type of work on their own, and others find it helpful to process their emotions with a mental health professional, do not be afraid to reach out to a therapist or sign up for an online therapy platform such as BetterHelp or Talkspace There are even AI solutions available – Woebot, for example, allows you to process your emotions with a mental health chatbot trained in cognitive behavioral therapy.
When you take the time to both acknowledge and feel your emotions, you can reveal some strong emotions. Be prepared for anger, sadness, frustration and fear to pass through your body. Having a diary, a box of tissues or a pillow that you can pummel nearby can help you experience and process these emotions – and you may will feel calmer when you allow yourself to experience the emotions you previously ignored. and more relaxed.
Taking the time to acknowledge your feelings can even help you understand better decision. "When we do not take time for grounding and clarity, we tend to make more mistakes," Egel explains. Spending time processing your emotions, for example, can make the difference between putting the phone away for the evening and spending the entire night judging scrolling. Once you have dealt with the feelings you have hidden or suppressed, it is easier to be present with your family, with your co-workers and – most importantly – with yourself.
Adjusting Your Routine
Once you have taken the time to sit down with your emotions – and this is the type of activity you should prioritize regularly – it's worth asking yourself if it's time to change some of the habits you and your family adopted during the quarantine. "It is important to question our usual routines from time to time to ensure that they are still relevant," says Egel.
Baker agrees. “Many parents try to maintain the same routine and the same lifestyle that they lived before COVID. Another set of parents made some adjustments to their routine in March, but since these are too long distances, we now need to readjust and come up with a long-term plan.
Customize your long distance routine. can include everything from evaluating your workouts to adjusting your budget to investing in a fireplace so the family can enjoy the garden when the weather gets colder. If you want a step-by-step guide to balancing your time and money during the pandemic, we have one – so start there and see if any of our proposed changes inspire you to make any adjustments.
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Make incremental shifts
Sometimes, self-care suggestions like "get eight hours of sleep every night" feel more stressful than possible. Egel and Baker suggest starting small. For example, if you sleep four hours a night, see if you can adjust your schedule to get five hours – or even four hours and thirty minutes. If you do not have time for a ten minute meditation, try a three minute one. For Haven Life customers, you can take advantage of Aaptiv, an award-winning fitness app that offers health programs of various lengths and is available free of charge via Haven Life Plus. And hey, if even three minutes seems like too much, try taking ten deep breaths. "If you haven't exercised at all, it takes a five-minute walk around the block."
In many cases, the benefits of something as simple as a five minute walk will inspire you to keep moving your habits – from five minutes to fifteen minutes to thirty minutes and so on. You can apply the same type of incremental shifts in your children's lives and habits, whether you are calling down screen time or calling up fruits and vegetables. "Feel their baseline and start moving the steering wheel in the right direction," Baker advises.
Take your time
Both Egel and Baker also talked about the importance of spending time on your own – even if you can only take a few minutes of private time on a day full of Zoom meetings and childcare. "I understand that," Egel said. “The last thing you think you can do is cut out time for yourself. Do what you need to get some solo time.
Baker suggests you take your solo time at the beginning of the day. “Prioritize the first minutes of your day. Give yourself what you need. "If you are a parent, Baker can give this advice: 'Being able to get up five, ten minutes earlier than your children is a huge win. When you can get up before your children and they do not rush you out of bed, you do not wake up in this panicked state of stress. "
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Seek professional help
We mentioned this earlier, but it is Worth repeating: Some people may be able to exercise self-care and prioritize their mental health on their own, and other people may find it more beneficial to work with a mental health professional. If so, make sure you prioritize getting the support you need – and do not feel embarrassed to ask for help.
"This is a good time for mental health support," Baker recommends. “There are so many providers of mental health. They meet over the phone, over Zoom, over text.
Some people assume that therapy is only for people who need to work with so-called "serious issues". Today's psychiatric staff is ready to provide all kinds of help – so feel free to contact a therapist if you want help adapting your habits, connecting to your feelings or even finding a way to get an extra hour of sleep every night. If you want to know how to make your life – or family life – even a little better, mental health professionals have the tools to help you deal with stress, make better choices, communicate with loved ones or prioritize your own needs.  "Taking time for self-care is worth the investment," Egel reminds us. Sometimes it means investing in yourself, and sometimes it means investing in professional help. If you have never considered working with a therapist before, remember that these are unprecedented times. Bringing a mental health staff to your team can be the best thing you can do for yourself and your family as we continue to navigate what has been an unexpected and life-changing year – and prepare for what 2021 may bring.