2020 took a toll on most of us. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American adults ages 18 and older reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19. Younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers and unpaid adult caregivers reported experiencing disproportionately worse mental health effects, increased substance use and elevated suicidal ideation.
Overall, 40.9 percent of individuals report at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder (30.9 percent), symptoms of a trauma- and stressor-related disorder due to the pandemic (26.3 percent) and starting or increasing substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3 percent).
Therefore, taking care of yourself is not indulgence; it’s necessary for good mental health during the pandemic and overall mental well-being. Here are five ways to improve your mental health in 2021:
1) EMBRACE SELF-CARE
If self-care is sustained and intentionally practiced, it can preserve wellness and maintain wholeness in being. Many times, we place ourselves last on the list or not on the list at all. We ask,” Is it not selfish to put yourself first?” But how can we care for others if we never take a moment for ourselves?
It is self-FULL to be as good as possible to yourself, to take care of yourself and to be emotionally stable and healthy. That doesn’t mean you disregard everything and everyone else. It simply means you don’t run on empty emotions, which create a breeding ground for maladaptive coping skills like negative judgements, emotional masking, impulsive decision making, isolation, depressed and anxious mood, overeating/undereating, and suicide ideation.
So many of us pour ourselves out to get affirmation — trying to score points as if we were earning stars on a behavior chart to receive a reward.
Giving, to the degree of sacrificing who you are, becomes a crucifixion of your inner being. Never feel shameful or guilty for taking care of yourself. Remember it is necessary in order to fulfill your purpose in life.
2) ELIMINATE STRESSORS
This can be accomplished by using a single word: “No.” This word is a complete sentence and can be used alone without any explanation. Give yourself permission to say “no” to things you no longer want to indulge in and things you don’t like or want to do. Be aware of what you do, why you do it, how it feels and what the outcomes are.
3) BE INTENTIONAL WITH YOUR LOVE
Find your tribe or support system. Surround yourself with people who support who you are and your efforts toward making the world a better place. This also includes setting clear boundaries with others who practice emotional vampirism. These are the people who literally drain the life from you and never contribute to revitalizing your life.
4) FIND PLEASURE IN LIFE BREATH BY BREATH
Meditation teaches us to focus on the present moment breath by breath. It is practiced as an alternative or complementary solution for adverse mental health and some physical health issues.
Clinical research supports the benefits of meditation. Studies show that meditation can help individuals cope with some symptoms associated with certain mental disorders, reduce some of the psychological difficulties associated with chronic pain and even improve some cognitive and behavioral functions.
5) SHARE YOUR HONEST FEELINGS
When asked “how are you,” “I’m fine” seems to be our customary response. What if we responded with our honest feelings?
Talking about your true feelings is not a sign of weakness nor complaining. It’s vital to taking control of your wellbeing and remaining mentally healthy. Talking is way of coping with problems. Just being listened to can help someone feel supported and less alone.
Dr. Shelia Rivers, DSW, LCSW and MPH, is owner and chief therapist at Rivers Psychotherapy Services PLLC. Reach her at (707) 728-5131 or firstname.lastname@example.org.