Morale is low among many Dallasites. The coronavirus pandemic has taken control of our lives, restructured our days, and thrown a wrench in our plans and goals. And there’s really nothing we can do about it besides stay at home. Unfortunately, staying at home makes it extremely easy to think about all the things that have changed, all the things that will change, all the things you miss, all the things that might never be the same–and that spiral of thought can quickly become overwhelming.
It’s all depressing, to put it bluntly. I suspect that this pandemic is opening the door for another global outbreak, one of the mental health variety. We need to protect ourselves and others from succumbing to those illnesses, too, but how? I turned to a few local experts for answers.
“It is devastating to our economic structure, to our government structures, to our social structures to tell people they have to stay in their homes and they can’t leave,” says Christopher Taylor, Ph. D., licensed certified counselor and founder of Taylor Counseling Group. “I mean, it’s very scary. It’s a fear driven mentality we find ourselves in, which breeds depression and anxiety very quickly.”
There are, thankfully, ways to stave off those feelings before they’ve set in, and ways to pull yourself out of the slump if they already have. It’s about living intentionally, keeping a positive outlook, and grounding yourself. That’s all easier said than done, of course. Let’s start with the basics.
Be Kind To Your Body
Gyms are closed, classes are canceled, and feeding yourself is a little more complicated at the moment–but try to take care of yourself, and don’t let this “off time” turn into a bender.
“I think keeping our bodies healthy is the first and easiest thing you can do to help maintain a healthy mental state, because our mental state often is driven by our physical mentality or by our physical state,” says Taylor. “So, if we’re just ordering pizza and Netflix-ing all day, just having a longer spring break, we’re going to feel the impact of that on our physical body, and then also our mental body, as well.”
Maintain A Daily Schedule
While your plans have inevitably changed, your daily routines don’t have to. Maintaining structure will give you a bit of normalcy to hang onto.
“I know it is extremely difficult right now, but doing the best you can to still wake up at the same time, even if you’ve been furloughed from your job, even if you have kids,” says Taylor. He says having set rise and rest times is “really going to help you stay in the right mental space, and then set some time for you to focus on your mental health by doing some really small, simple things like [the app] Headspace.”
Focus on the Positive
For Dr. Karla Evans, clinical psychologist and co-founder of Dallas-based, digital mental health platform Anticipate Joy, there is one daily routine in particular that she recommends for well-being:
“A practice that I have made a part of my daily life for a very long time is practicing the art of gratitude. So, every morning waking up with an attitude of gratitude. The very first thing I do when my alarm goes off is, I verbally speak out what I’m thankful for… it’s one thing to think about it in our minds, but it’s another thing to actually speak it out loud. I think it kind of sets the trajectory for my day.”
Focusing on the good things requires you to turn your attention away from negativity. Evans’ fellow co-founder of Anticipate Joy, Dr. Veronica Tetterton, adds: “There’s always more than one vantage point. So, we want to encourage people to actively shift their focus, and sometimes that requires shifting what you’re doing.”
Let Yourself Tune Out Sometimes
Yes, I, a journalist, am telling you that you don’t need to watch every single news update or click every terrifying story that your high school frenemy shares on Facebook. Give yourself a break and let yourself forget about the state of the world sometimes.
“People are kind of wondering, where’s the line between legitimate concern and anxiety? It would be naive for us to dismiss this as something that all of us shouldn’t be legitimately concerned about. We should be careful, we should be mindful, we should engage in practices to ensure our safety,” says Tetterton. “But there is a line where it crosses over to anxiety. That typically means that it … begins to start causing problems for you in being able to go about your daily life. When it starts crossing that line, it can either immobilize you or paralyze you, so that you’re not doing anything, but consuming information so you can continue to stay abreast of what’s going on at the expense of other things that you could be enjoying or doing. So, it could be over consuming. You know, it can also be immobilizing to the extent that you maybe don’t allow yourself to do things that are safe.”
Learn to Recognize and Address Feelings of Anxiety
If you have gotten to the point where you feel paralyzed with anxiety or depression, you’re going to need to do some work to pull yourself out of that pit. However, it’s better to process those feelings before casting them aside.
“One of the simplest things is putting a rubber band around your wrist where you do thought stopping, or you set a timer where you find yourself worrying profusely for 20 minutes, and then once that timer goes off, that you have to physically force yourself to change what you’re thinking about and what you’re focusing on. You might have to watch mindless television, you might have to put on a silly song, you might have to engage in an activity that’s going to cause you to be in somewhat of a mental escape. But those things are going to help ground you in a way that’s going to bring mindfulness to the situation,” says Evans.
Be Mindful About Screen Time
Right now, technology is our best resource for connecting with people outside our household and avoiding cabin fever. So, do we need to be worried about too much screen time, for ourselves, and our little ones?
All three experts gave a similar answer: It very much depends on what you’re looking at.
“We can find ourselves much more involved in social media now, and we know through research that involvement, particularly in Instagram and other types of social media outlets like that, can have a negative impact on our mental well being,” says Evans. “I would be more concerned about, what are you consuming during screen time, and less about the amount of screen time.”
When it comes to kids, it’s okay to be a little more lax in your screen time rules for the time being. As Taylor reminds us, we are in an unusual situation and it’s okay to make exceptions to our normal rules.
“Obviously, in times of emergency, we got to do what we got to do to get by. You know, I would much rather overdo screen time a little bit with my two-year-old versus having my marriage fall apart during this time–because this is a temporary time. This is the new normal for right now. It’s not the new normal for all of 2020, 2021.”
Anticipate Joy offers mental health services from Texas-based, licensed therapists through its HIPAA-compliant digital platform, which coincidentally launched last week.
Taylor Counseling Group also offers all of its counseling services through tele-health for the safety of its patients. The company is also providing limited pro-bono services through the month of April for those in need.