MY MESSAGE TO YOU:As we continue to navigate the complexities of our new world, women have a rare opportunity right NOW to grow stronger through the chaos and enhance their mental strength. This blog is my way of using my voice as a mental health professional and this platform as a Healthy Woman Leader to:
- Provide insight on mental health during COVID-19 and to help normalize your experience.
- Give you silver linings and nuggets of HOPE to carry with you.
- Let you know you are not alone…We are all in this TOGETHER!
- Offer suggestions on how to enhance your mental strength as we move forward.
- Empower each of you as women committed to health, to lead by example, use your voice, and promote mental wellness!
COVID-19 THEME: Grief & LossThe coronavirus does not discriminate against who it infects and is an equal opportunity offender just like mental illness. This pandemic is impacting everyone in some capacity, with so many unknowns left to be defined. With routines and structure out the door, access to healthy coping skills limited, never-ending COVID-19 news, and “isolation” as the new norm, we are starting to see the significant toll this virus is taking on our mental health. This collective “human” experience is illuminating just how “human” we all are and how “human” we will continue to be as we face this global crisis together.
Often masked as anxiety, irritability, and sadness, a common theme coming up for many people right now is one of grief & loss. While the most heartbreaking consequence of this pandemic is the reality that those passing on are not able to say goodbye, this is just one piece of our greater grief story. Our society is going through a collective grief experience over the loss of a life that was abruptly taken away and will never return. The unexpected onset of COVID-19 is resulting in grief & loss around: “the known,” control, safety, routine/structure, basic human rights, ability for children/adults to report/leave unsafe living environments, health, employment, financial security, outlets/coping skills, in-person connection, independence, healthy boundaries, “me time,” and a future we previously thought we knew, to name a few. As we move through COVID-19 and shift from shock/denial to a basic level of understanding, many of us are just trying to hold on to an ounce of normalcy.
During unprecedented times like these, it is normal and natural to experience heightened levels of distress and symptoms triggered by grief/loss and trauma. We are all human. I’ve been hearing reports of ongoing sleep interruption, fatigue, feeling “on edge,” and body anxiety, yet many individuals “cannot understand why?” The “why” is simple. Our bodies are grieving the loss of our safety and are doing exactly what they were designed to do, protect us from harm. According to Kati Morton, LMFT who spoke with trauma specialist, Dr. Alexa Altman, Ph.D., our bodies have been ramping up for some time now to “fight or flight” against this very real, yet invisible threat to our survival. Unfortunately, we do not have a clear picture if or when it will “attack” each of us or at what point we will have a resolution (aka, vaccine). Many of us are in this very uncomfortable holding pattern, as our bodies are getting ready to take charge, yet have no opportunity to effectively flight/fight and release the built-up energy.
Instead of being hard on ourselves for feeling “off,” I would like to empower you to:
- Show your body gratitude for doing its job.
- Connect with others for support.
- Get your body moving to help release some of that uncomfortable energy.
- Use mindfulness as a way to ground and re-center.
SILVER LININGSWhile I never want to minimize the devastating impacts of COVID-19, and probably have enough content to write a book, I feel it is equally if not more important to reinforce the use of healthy coping skills and to highlight the silver linings to get us through this dark time. This is my way of holding on to hope, increasing “mental strength,” and gaining a sense of control back, while also helping others do the same. With that said, this period of time is also resulting in dynamic change, positive shifts, as well as providing opportunities for growth, both individually and collectively.
Even during our period of isolation, there is a feeling of togetherness through this collective grief experience. Ironically, the use of technology to socialize has enabled many pre-coronavirus “disconnected” individuals to reconnect with friends and family, especially those who live far away. Engaging with others, even if limited to the internet, is an important tool we can use to soothe our nervous system and enhance mental strength. This is especially true for those living alone or prone to depression and anxiety.
In addition to enhanced communication amongst family and friends, many companies, educational institutions, organizations, medical, and fitness professionals have also been able to keep their “virtual doors open” thanks to video platforms. People are now able to attend online parties, art shows, concerts, yoga classes, church, doctor appointments, and therapy to name a few, while safely “isolating at home.” People previously unable to access services due to limited time, illness, childcare, mobility issues, transportation barriers, and other stressors are finally able to engage! It has been wonderful to see shifts in priorities amongst organizations, increased support, and an explosion of free resources found online. I can only hope that this level of community togetherness and online access will continue as we move beyond COVID-19.
Our frontline workers have been reminding us just how selfless, strong, courageous, and innately resilient we can be as humans. These brave individuals deserve so much gratitude for putting their lives at risk so we can remain safe at home. Despite being overworked, exposed to unsafe conditions, and under extreme levels of stress, they continue to show up for us. For individuals lucky enough to lead from home, this is the perfect opportunity to practice GRATITUDE & GIVE BACK. This not only helps those who would benefit from your support, but also serves to enhance our own mental strength.
We are being presented with a rare opportunity with “social distancing” to sit still in “isolation” or amongst family, be present, and heal individually and collectively. In a culture where work/life balance remains a challenge and mental wellness is an afterthought, we are being reminded to take a breath. With that breath, I encourage everyone to utilize this time, if able, to circle back to your core values and embrace what truly matters. Some individuals are seeing isolation as a beautiful opportunity to strengthen their mental health, deepen family connections, and identify how they actually want to spend the rest of their life.
MENTAL STRENGTH DURING ISOLATION
While I’m very cognizant that many individuals do not have the same luxury to truly slow down and reboot (i.e., frontline professionals or parents juggling work from home, children, and household responsibilities), I would still encourage you to set healthy boundaries with yourself and others and take one chunk or multiple small chunks throughout the day to reflect and practice self-care. As humans, we need this time to ground, self-regulate, and reset so we can continue to stay healthy and move forward.
As you “sit with your thoughts” and engage in radical self-reflection, whether alone or with family near, I hope you can take some time to review the COVID-19 COPING STATEMENTS I put together to serve as healthy reminders:
- It’s okay to experience whatever I am experiencing without judgement & with self-compassion! This is a very NORMAL response to a crisis.
- Even if I am a healthy leader, I’m also a HUMAN being impacted right now.
- It’s “okay to not feel okay” and it is “okay to feel okay.”
- We are ALL going through this pandemic together! I am NOT alone!
- It’s okay to grieve. This is a time of significant loss.
- It’s okay to talk to others and ask for support, even if people normally come to me for guidance.
- It’s okay to set small attainable self-care goals to get motivated and build my mental strength. I do not need to get “everything” done right now.
- It’s okay to honor myself, set healthy boundaries with those around me, and take self-care “me-time.”
- It’s okay to focus on my values & make changes that are best for my mental health.
- As a reminder, I have been through hard times before and I will get through this time too.
TAKING CONTROL BACK AMONGST THE CHAOS
With all of that said, there is no better time than NOW to grow stronger through the chaos and enhance our mental strength. While the long-term impact of this pandemic remains unknown, we have the opportunity in this very moment to help minimize the undeniable consequences ahead. I have created a COVID-19 MENTAL WELLNESS TOOLBOX to offer some guidance. However, I would encourage you to create a personalized version to best meet your unique needs. For anyone on the frontline reading this, I would like to empower you to stay connected, provide yourself with as much self-compassion as possible, while focusing on practices that will help calm your nervous system. Some of these practices include: yoga, breathing, stretches, meditation, and mindfulness.
This is like no other time in our history. If you are going through this period alone, are struggling in silence amongst your loved ones, or are a frontline professional, I would encourage you to seek Teletherapy support from a mental health clinician. We are here, ready to help you and our community!
WE ALL DESERVE SUPPORT
For those able and stable, I would like to empower you, as influential leaders, to serve as role models for those who would benefit from guidance navigating the chaos. Use your voices, platforms, and resources to lead by example so you can help educate others on the importance of mental wellness, especially during a crisis.
CALL TO ACTION
This collective “human” experience paired with voices from leaders like you will:
- Increase understanding, empathy & compassion for people who regularly cope with mental illness, as COVID-19 is shedding light on mental health for those who previously could not relate.
- Help normalize the use of self-care/healthy coping for all.
- Shift false beliefs that therapy is for the “weak/crazy” to an understanding that it is just like any other medical appointment. The more we speak up, the safer it will feel for other people to do the same.
*If you take just one thing away from this blog, I hope it is this:
No matter how scared, sad, or isolated you feel, you are not alone. If you are feeling unsafe, would like an extra layer of support, or do not know where to turn, please reach out:
- Colorado Crisis Services: 1-844-493-8255
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255