A mental health crisis is coming. This is how to prepare.

By April 16, 2020COVID-19

Right now things are fairly quiet in the psychological community.

It’s a very stressful time for people, but oddly we’re not very busy as psychologists. Although many of us are still working with our existing clients using video conferencing, new client requests are at an all-time low.

There are lots of reasons why people aren’t seeking out therapy:

  • We can’t meet in person and that’s definitely a factor (although I find that online therapy is really similar to in-person therapy).
  • Families are home together so it can be challenging to find a private spot for an hour.
  • People are losing their jobs and even if they have a job, they’re worried about not having one in the future.

The lull in requests for therapy is completely understandable in many ways. What I’m worried about is a few months from now.

What’s happening in mental health is like the wave receding prior to the tsunami hitting the beach.

A mental health emergency is coming and we need to be ready.

This is an unprecedented time and there is so much trauma happening. The collective grief response is going to be enormous. There is so much anxiety about health, our kids and the future. The money worries. The social isolation. The lack of activity. The boredom. The loneliness.

The health care workers. They are going to desperately need mental health help due to the multitude of stressors they are facing.

There’s a lot we can’t do anything about right now. But there’s a lot we can do to prepare too…

Here are some tips to increase your resiliency during this time of intense stress:

First of all: allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling. Give yourself time and space to process the emotions that are coming up for you right now. When things are especially stressful, I recommend setting aside a specific time every day to face, feel, think about and work through the stressful topics.

Set aside anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, or more if you need it. Get a journal, light a candle and feel, write, process and allow whatever you need. When you’re done, imagine putting all the stress in an imaginary container, to be opened up the next day and dealt with again. You might want to carry a notebook around to write down the stressful thoughts and feelings you want to deal with at your allotted time.

Second: experience joy in serving others. Is there any better feeling than helping out someone else? Whether it’s donating to the food bank, delivering some groceries to a neighbor, sending a text to a loved one or giving your kids, partner or pets some special attention, it feels good to give. What the world needs now is love and not only does it help others, but it’s a great way for you to feel better.

Third: let yourself enjoy certain parts of this time. I want to preface this point by saying that I send my condolences to those who have lost their loved ones to COVID-19. I deeply empathize with those who have struggled through a scary and very uncomfortable illness. My heart breaks those who have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet.  I would never want to downplay that pain. But I have to acknowledge something that I think is important to normalize…there are many people who are enjoying some aspects of this physical distancing experience. I’ve noticed that when I’ve given my clients the opportunity to talk about this, many of them are feeling relieved, more at peace or happier in certain ways with this change in lifestyle.

It’s OK to allow yourself to enjoy the extra time that you can sleep in in the morning. The special family time that you can enjoy more often. The opportunity to get a few things done around the house. The Netflix show that you’ve been able to binge-watch or the book series that you finally had a chance to read. I know for me, I am loving that I can spend more one-on-one time with my kids, as I used to feel that we were far too busy running to activities.

Society has slowed down and there are some positive sides to that. If you’re enjoying some of this time, allow yourself to experience that without guilt. If you’re not enjoying any aspects of it, that’s OK too.

Fourth: control what you can…leave the rest. So much in our lives right now is out of our hands. Most of us have never experienced so much uncertainty and change. It can be helpful to focus your attention on what is within your control and work to let go of the rest. Some examples of what you can likely control: the choice to think a more balanced or positive thought; the opportunity to go for a walk every day; choosing to listen supportively to someone else talk about their worries and the option to have hope for the future.

I have been using the Serenity Prayer in many of my sessions:

Please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

This prayer can provide great comfort during this time. Speaking of prayer…

Fifth: consider connecting to your definition of spirit. This one is not for everyone, but perhaps you might benefit from a new or renewed connection to your definition of a higher power. You could say a brief prayer in the morning, attend an online church service if that appeals to you or meditate as a form of connection. I consider myself very connected to spirit and engage in prayer, meditative practices and other activities that help renew my strength and maintain hope for the future. I would wish the same sense of comfort for all of you.

Sixth: If you can make it happen, it might be the perfect time to reach out for therapy.  As noted above, most psychologists are less busy than usual. You can likely get in to see a trained professional quickly and do so from the comfort of your own home. Truly, it’s one of the best times to seek out therapy.

If you’re in Alberta, we’d be happy to work with you at Ward & Associates. Feel free to contact us here to discuss setting up an appointment. If we can’t help you, we’ll give you referrals for those who can.

I hope you found these tips helpful. Feel free to share this post with your friends and comment below with your thoughts on tip #3!

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