People have been suffering from social isolation and grieving numerous losses, such as job loss, social outlets, funerals, loss of lives, and the list goes on. All of which has had a profound impact on the mental health of people, leading to increased anxiety, depression, substance abuse, drug related overdose, and suicide. Many who already struggled with these issues have been suffering even more, and those who didn’t have issues, now do.
As a therapist, I have been extremely busy helping many who are struggling with all of these issues and more. The one thing 2020 has forced us all to do is to slow down, reflect, and sit with our feelings. This can be a positive thing, but is also challenging for most, especially for those who have a history of trauma and shame and were used to having the usual distractions available to them as an escape before they were taken away.
We are wired to connect, not isolate. Fostering connections is vital to our health and wellness. Research shows that the effects of social isolation can have significant consequences for a person’s emotional and physical health, which include increased symptoms of depression.
Most people are understandably struggling to self soothe and as a result are eating and drinking more or scrolling social media for hours to numb the present. These are ways to escape, but as Brene’ Brown would say, “When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” We need to feel in order to heal. Soothing ourselves is how we calm our bodies when we are overloaded by stress. Learning to regulate our emotions is learned early on, and the inability to cope with difficult emotions in healthy ways can contribute to an increased use of substances as well as other addictions.
The drastic changes to lifestyle have impacted everyone in different ways, for example, couples have had to adjust to spending a lot more time together, which can bring up old conflict that was never repaired between them. I let couples know that it can be helpful to schedule some emotional break time from each other each day for self-care and to also think about how vulnerable they are in their relationships. Shame is a feeling of “not being enough” that comes up in therapy and is a root cause of most relationship problems. Couples often shame each other using blame, which prevents both people from getting their needs met. Men often carry shame around, expressing vulnerable feelings from receiving early messages that doing so would mean they would be perceived as weak. Boys are usually encouraged to be strong and not to express emotions other than anger. Women often carry shame around perfectionism and feeling the pressure of societal expectations that relate to things such as their appearance, careers, or motherhood. In therapy, I help my clients unpack the shame, guide them to heal, and help them feel safe to communicate in their relationships and be able to repair and improve their connections.
Parents are at their limits trying to teach using distance learning with their children who are also struggling emotionally. It’s OK to let your children know that these are hard times for everyone and to inform them when you need a break to calm yourself down, rather than projecting your frustration onto them. When you explain your feelings to your children, you are modeling and teaching them how to emotionally regulate their emotions in a healthy way, so they don’t resort to unhealthy ways of coping in the future.
The elderly are also struggling even more with isolation, losing the support and comfort of being with family and peers, the loss of going to senior centers for games they once played to fill their time, and even the loss of their usual excitement of seeing warm facial expressions of people at the grocery store that are now being covered by masks.
Many people are struggling to manage their emotions on social media. This is a time when we should be lifting each other up, but instead, it has become a newsfeed of an increased amount of negativity, with more and more people ridiculing and shaming others who don’t have beliefs that are similar to their own. One example of many, is parents and teachers won’t share the same comfort level on returning to school, and that is OK. Effective communication seeks to understand one another, not to use blame and shame. Everyone will not agree on everything, but everyone is doing the best they can with the tools they have to navigate these crazy times; we can be a part of the divide, or choose to be kind and come together to support one another.
“There is so much that is not in our control, so it can be helpful to think about how you manage your emotional state and put energy toward the things you can control.”
Some positives have come out during this time, such as more time for self-reflection and learning to appreciate the little things that we take for granted on a daily basis. There is so much that is not in our control, so it can be helpful to think about how you manage your emotional state and put energy toward the things you can control. Here are some tips on how to take care of your mental health during these times:
The most important relationship is with yourself. Nurturing yourself first allows you to be your best self for others. Take the time to do more things that get you out of your head and into your body in the present moment, such as slow deep breathing, exercise, dancing, or hiking. Writing your feelings can also be therapeutic.
Intentions are a way to help you connect to what matters most and brings your heart and mind into alignment. An example of one intention is, “A desire to be more vulnerable in your relationships.”
Find your joy
Levels of joy will go up and down. Shame can keep us from vulnerability and fully experiencing joy. Think back to activities in the past that you used to enjoy, whether it’s dancing, watching old movies, or a certain hobby. Schedule time each day to connect with the things that bring you joy.
Gratitude means being thankful for the good things in your life and creates a distraction from focusing on the negative stressors. This can improve mental health and strengthen relationships. Be grateful not only for your breath alone, but the little things such as the sun, water, and food. Showing your appreciation for others and being kind can also help you feel better.
Limit media to reduce anxiety
The constant negative news can create anxiety and depression. Limit media time and seek good news stories. If you find that you are comparing yourself to others on social media, redirect your focus to things that really matter.
Connect with people
Social isolation doesn’t mean emotional isolation. Take time to acknowledge your feelings and share them with supportive people. Social connection improves physical health and emotional well-being.
“Be grateful not only for your breath alone, but the little things such as the sun, water, and food.”
Talking to a therapist is a great recourse during these times. If you are struggling, you are not alone. I believe that the therapeutic relationship is key in the client’s healing process, and I use a variety of therapeutic techniques including EMDR, CBT, and emotionally focused therapy. I also provide some mental health tips on my Instagram account at juliegarcia_lmft. Additionally, if you or anyone you know is suicidal, call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number at 800-273-8255.