Staying ‘sane’ in an insane world: Simple ways to improve mental health

“Due to the unique circumstances of Covid combined with the adverse economic consequences, social unrest and political uncertainty people who have never struggled with anxiety or depression are finding themselves in unfamiliar territory.  Everyone is trying to find a way to adapt,” says mental health provider Moira Wilcox, LICSW. Further complicating the situation is the lack of normal coping mechanisms such as interpersonal relationships and social ties which have been shown to limit stress and anxiety. The sense of isolation compounds the problem and may lead to harmful coping mechanisms. As such new, alternative solutions to mild depression and anxiety must be found. Just as any physical ailment requires some form of therapy to recover so too does mental health. Fortunately, there are simple forms of self-help that can assist in chasing the blues away. 

There is a strong link between physical and mental health: the better you feel physically, the better you are mentally and vice versa. So, whatever you are doing (or not doing) is going to influence your thinking.  “There is strong evidence that suggests physical activity and exercise probably alleviate some symptoms of mild to moderate depression.” This does not mean you need to start training for a triathlon or convert the basement to a gym. The key is consistency. Simple activities like walking have been shown to have numerous health benefits. Another practical, non-strenuous option is yoga. All yoga practice requires is a soft floor (or an inexpensive yoga mat) and an internet connection. There are many free YouTube classes for beginners. In addition to the physical benefits yoga also helps with being mindful and present another helpful treatment.

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Meditation has also been proven to help reduce stress, anxiety, and improve focus.  Again, there are numerous free guides to meditation online. However, Pema Chödrön’s, “When Things Fall Apart Heart Advice for Difficult Times” is instructive and timely. The book offers simple instructions on both meditation and how to carry the inspiration from that meditation into your daily life. “When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may just be the beginning of a great adventure.”

Finally, behavior such as drinking which is acceptable in social situations can quickly become unhealthy and even harmful when used as a coping mechanism.  A recent study shows a significant increase in drug and alcohol use and corresponding rates of alcoholism and addiction since the start of the pandemic. However, virtual recovery meetings have sprung up on Zoom and can now be attended anywhere at any time. For immediate help with conditions requiring professional help, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) national helpline (800) 662-4357 offers confidential assistance 24/7, 365 days a year.

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