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It feels like day 4,387,749 of the pandemic, and the words “mental health” sound hollow and distant.

So many shadows surfacing amid the isolation, loss and distance. So many pieces of ourselves feel fragile and uncertain.

“How then shall we live?”

Julian of Norwich’s words “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well,” seem difficult to hold onto right now with so much turmoil on every level.

As a mental health professional, I have certainly seen and heard the struggles of people of all ages facing exacerbated mental and emotional strain during this time.

I have also noticed how people have become aware of issues they didn’t know were there, hadn’t been listening to or hadn’t been able to make space for previously.

The ways we may have previously numbed or avoided our painful emotional places – through work, substances, relationships or myriad other avoidance and coping strategies – are not accessible to us now and, thus, are no longer providing the shield to difficult places in ourselves that they once did.

Work has tended to be my drug of choice when I am needing to avoid my own challenges, and I have certainly noticed this coping mechanism that has been alive and well in my daily routine during this pandemic.

I was out walking my 6-month-old Labrador retriever, Cara, a couple of months ago and became acutely aware of my own anxiety having escalated.

Not really being sure why this was happening for me, I spent some time reflecting and checking in. It occurred to me that I was needing to be extremely present to the moment as my furry family member insisted on my attention and willingness to explore with her in the here and now.

Being out with Cara and recognizing that I was not able to numb with my schedule and ever-growing “to do” list made me recognize how I was being impacted by the current state of affairs but hadn’t been making space or giving voice to it.

Anxiety, grief, relational conflicts, past trauma and addictive tendencies are just a few of the manifestations that are either surfacing for the first time or being exacerbated in those who already struggle in these areas.

How might we use this time and space to bring healing and acknowledge these parts of us that are coming out of the shadows?

We as a collective are also being exposed daily to distressing and traumatic circumstances and information.

There is such a global sense of powerlessness amid all of it. Vicarious or secondary trauma is real and can definitely add to our individual stress.

We are in a collective global exacerbation of unresolved and unhealed parts of ourselves individually as well as systemically.

So, how would you know if you are being impacted negatively by the current state of the world? And what are some of the ways that you can care for yourself and also perhaps turn your attention to what is surfacing from either a deep place or a new place within yourself?

Below are some insights to help you recognize some of the ways you may be experiencing increased or even new challenges that may be showing up for you emotionally, mentally or physically.

It is important to be aware that overwhelming circumstances can manifest in a variety of ways:

  • Having trouble sleeping.
  • Eating more (or less) than you usually would or craving sugary foods.
  • Physical aches and pains that you didn’t notice before this season of lockdown and an upside-down world.
  • Being short-tempered, easily irritated or feeling sad, lethargic and unmotivated or even somewhat hopeless.
  • Feeling anxious and having trouble calming your mind and body.
  • Having difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
  • Thought patterns, behaviors or unresolved emotions coming to the surface.

As we continue to navigate the uncertainties and the surfacing of individual mental, physical and emotional challenges, what are some ways that we can care for ourselves and also perhaps begin to address those parts of ourselves that are surfacing and needing some attention?

  • First, know that you are not alone. Despite the sense of aloneness because of our limited connection, a collective angst is present that we are all experiencing in some form.
  • Reduce the amount of exposure you are having to news reports and information that could be overwhelming or distressing.
  • Move your physical body. Allow the energy and tension that may be present in your body to be discharged and make a way for the natural calming and clearing neurochemicals in our bodies to bring some relief and balance to our system. This may take the form of walks, gentle yoga or stretching or, for some, it may be more rigorous. Learning to listen to and care for our physical bodies is an important part of overall well-being at any time but especially now.
  • Get outside in nature as much as possible.
  • Increase your intake of water and nutritious food while minimizing sugar and caffeine as much as possible.
  • Spend time with those people who are life-giving and encouraging, even if it has to be via a computer screen.
  • Get professional help if you are finding your mental, physical or emotional symptoms are becoming unmanageable or you are feeling as though the strategies that have been helpful in the past are no longer serving you.
  • Meditate, pray, journal, create art, sing, dance – engage in practices that provide some joy and peace in your daily routine. It doesn’t have to be for long but can help to make a shift in our mood states.
  • Practice copious amounts of self-compassion. The work of Chris Germer and Kristin Neff can be a helpful resource.
  • Make space for those parts of you that are surfacing and pay them some attention and honor them in this time.

We are in liminal space at this time, and in this space, there is an invitation to pay attention to the deeper echoes within us and give voice to those whispers that you are perhaps able to hear for the first time in a long while.

Will you draw closer to your authentic self and step toward more wholeness? Perhaps there is a gift waiting in these shadows.

Editor’s note: This article is the part of a series this week for Mental Health Awareness Month (May). The previous article in the series is:

Limited Access, Funding Plague Mental Health Care | Monty Self

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