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Just Breathe: How to Manage Your Mental Health During a Global Crisis

Nine tips for managing your well-being in the midst of uncertainty.

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It feels as though the entire world is on fire. Every day exhausts us as if a week has passed. The news isn’t slowing down. The…

Stop.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
[Repeat as many times as needed]

Yes, we are living through history right now. A crisis of global proportions is leaving many of us fearful, uncertain, stressed, and overwhelmed. And that’s OK. It’s OK to feel however you are feeling right at this moment. But there are also things we all can—and should—do to maintain our own mental wellness.

We spoke to Zaneta Evans, program manager of healthy living for the Mental Health Center of Denver, and culled some ideas from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) to create this list of recommendations for how to manage your mental health during a time of heightened anxiety. We hope these tips help you now, when we’re all cooped up unsure of when we’ll head back outside into a new normal, and in the future.

  1. TAKE A BREATHER. Whether you’re working from home, trying to figure out where your next paycheck is coming from, or are concerned about an older relative, there’s a lot to think about right now. It’s important to take a moment to turn it all off every once in a while. “Take a step back and count to 10 or try to slow things down,” Evans says. Take deep breaths. If your stomach is in knots, focus on it while you breathe in and out. Not your vibe? Turn on your favorite album. Journal. Do something that makes you feel good.
  2. STAY PRESENT. We like how AFSP put it: “When you find yourself worrying about something that hasn’t happened, gently bring yourself back to the present moment. Notice the sights, sounds, tastes, and other sensory experiences in your immediate moment and name them. Engaging in mindfulness activities is one way to help stay grounded when things feel beyond your control.”
  3. CREATE A NEW SCHEDULE. As many people are adjusting to different work hours or a new work environment (hello, kitty climbing all over the keyboard during a Zoom meeting), it’s important to organize a schedule and stick to it, Evans says. That might mean waking up early to crank out some work so you can switch gears mid-morning to focus on your kids. Figure out what you need to accomplish and then prioritize the list; Evans suggests dividing it into “must-dos” and “want-to-dos.”
  4. LIMIT YOUR NEWS AND SOCIAL MEDIA INTAKE. Put yourself on a news diet. Yes, it’s important to stay in the know, but if you notice you’re starting to feel stress or angst, shut it down. From personal experience, I’ve found it helpful to set time limits for specific apps (ahem, Twitter) on my phone and to stop looking at all news after about 8 p.m. AFSP says to “separate what is in your control from what is not.” Restricting your news consumption is one of those things that’s within your control.
  5. GET MOVING—AND GET OUTSIDE. Try to incorporate some sort of physical activity every single day, even if it’s just a walk around the block—maintaining appropriate social distance, of course. Exercise is good for both your physical and mental health and, as mom always said, a little fresh air will do you good.
  6. STAY IN TOUCH. Incorporate time for digital happy hours or phone call catch-ups with friends, family, and co-workers. Hearing a loved one’s voice can have a big impact, and they’ll appreciate that you’re checking in. “In today’s society, we’re so quick to just send a text message or message via Facebook. It’s not personal. We don’t hear that person’s voice,” says Evans, who wants us to stop relying on the fallback, “How are you?” “Pick up the phone and say, I’m just checking in on you. Leave it open. Give that person time and space to process whatever it means. I think that will get a different response.”
  7. KEEP TABS ON YOURSELF. Are you crying more often? Quicker to anger? Do you find yourself not wanting to engage with others? Pay attention to the emotional changes you’re experiencing, as well as how those around you might be reacting, Evans advises. “If your emotional response is different than it typically would be, [it might be time] to go out and get some fresh air or take a walk [or] step away for a moment and listen to music and not think about work or your child’s schooling.”
  8. ASK FOR HELP. We’re all navigating a completely unexpected way of life. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether that’s from your friends (see number six) or asking your older children to pitch in in different ways than they’re used to. “We’re very much in that place right now where it’s going to take a village for us all to get through this,” Evans says. It’s OK—encouraged, even—to reach out to others when you need to talk or share how you’re feeling, whether that’s a spouse, a friend, or a mental health professional.
  9. REMEMBER: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. “This is real for all of us,” Evans says. “It’s not just one culture; it’s not just one ethnicity or socioeconomic class. There’s no one that will not be impacted by this.”

If you or someone you know needs immediate support, call Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

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