As the COVID-19 pandemic unleashes on the world, schools are closed, spring break travel plans are cancelled and consider yourself lucky if you have enough toilet paper to last through the week. These are strange and scary times for a lot of people and the situation is breeding grounds for anxiety issues to challenge the mental health of people everywhere. There is some comfort knowing that we are all in this together and I expect we’ll not just see the hoarders and price gaugers make headlines, but real compassion and generosity come from some outstanding people as well.
But what about those who are shut in their homes or caring for the elderly or children and feel completely overwhelmed with how to handle this right now? While some therapy agencies are shutting their doors, many are not. And thankfully HIPAA-compliant telehealth counseling options are available in many places, including Pax Family Counseling. Outside of appealing to mental health professionals to guide you through this, there are some DIY therapy options available to everyone. And they all focus on one thing: locus of control.
There are a lot of things outside of our control right now: work, school, childcare, travel, empty shelves at the grocery store etc. Enough to make anyone feel a sense of panic. But to counter that, it’s important to really become the master of your own area of control. Recognize what outcomes can and can not be controlled by you and dedicate your energy to where it matters.
DIY Mental Health During the COVID-19 Crisis
First of all, breathe. No, seriously. Focus on breathing. The four-count (aka “box breathing”) method of breathing can literally calm your brain down. It is used by people who struggle with panic disorders and combat soldiers and everyone in between. The method is simple. Inhale through your nose to the count of four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, exhale for the length of four seconds and then hold that empty lung space for four seconds. Repeat two or three times. Use this whenever you feel your chest constricted or heart beating too fast with anxiety, as needed.
After this, make a mental or written list of the things you can control. Most people can control how kind they are, how patient they are, how they respond to bad news, how healthy they eat, how much they exercise, what they read, watch and think about. You can control who your friends are. You can control your spiritual life. How you spend your money. The arrangement of your living room furniture, learning a new musical instrument or how to watercolor paint. You can control how you clean your house, the decision to start a vegetable garden or finally print all the photos on your phone and organize them. Whether you want to reconcile with a lover or adopt a cat. Take time for a bubble bath or stomp in mud puddles, singing old Paula Abdul songs just to make your bored, homebound children laugh at you.
Life is precious. And right now it can be paralyzing to think of everything that is happening and ways we feel stuck in a frightening situation. Take time to pause, breathe: 1, 2, 3, 4… and enjoy the domains of your life where you do get to be fully and freely yourself.
Written by: Elizabeth Peck, a Clinical Mental Health Counseling Candidate at the University of the Cumberlands and a support assistant to Pax Family Counseling.