How to Maintain Your Mental Health in an Ongoing Pandemic
Last updated: March 2021
One year after the world shut down, communities and individuals are still experiencing the effects of the most recent global pandemic. Today, we discuss some ways that I have been able to maintain my mental health and help my clients do the same. Use these tips to ground yourself, develop emotion regulation, and prioritize your health.
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The Importance of Mental Health
As a professional in the mental health field, I obviously think mental health is pretty important. While you might not be as biased as I am, you should still work to protect and maintain your mental health because growth doesn’t just happen without intention behind it.
If you go throughout life without seriously considering how your daily thoughts, behaviors, and interactions are affecting you mentally, I’m certain that you’ll be very unhappy.
Why? Because the chaos in the world doesn’t stop. We need to be proactive to take steps to protect and maintain our own health despite the external daily changes we experience.
Even those people who don’t seek out professional help but that appear relatively well adjusted – I can promise you that at some point they have haphazardly or (better) systematically considered what might be contributing to their moods and ability to function throughout the day.
While we might talk to our best friends, or our spouses, or our parents regularly throughout the days, weeks, and months, the only person who is talking to us EVERY SINGLE MOMENT is us. So how we talk to ourselves and respond to ourselves has a great potential to affect our whole wellbeing.
Internal Versus External Stressors
When we speak negatively toward ourselves – “I’m too lazy” or “I don’t deserve this” etc. – we decide how our bodies function. In the same way, when we think about different circumstances and events, our brains experience them as if they happened in real life. If you imagine yourself succeeding at something, your brain thinks that you actually did it.
In other words, our minds can change the chemical makeup of our brains for the better if we try.
Our choices truly make a difference in our overall mental health.
However, there are some things we just can’t control. Whether other people like us, our pets’ behavior, the lasting effects of a global pandemic. We can certainly have an influence on each of these things by being kind to other people, taking our dogs to obedience school, and washing our hands. But not a single one of us can say, “Today, I’m going to make _____________ happen” and expect the world to instantaneously revert back to 2019.
We have both internal and external stressors that are weighing on us everyday. And while we can’t control those external stressors, there are some things we can do to reduce or change the internal stressors. By changing our own thoughts and behaviors, we can feel more in control, be more emotionally regulated, and improve our mental health so that we can better function in today’s crazy society.
Six Mental Health Tips and Tricks in an Ongoing Pandemic
Each of these tips is meant to help you focus on your own personal mental health and wellness by tapping into that superpower we all have – personal choice. When you choose to do these activities to promote your mental health, you take one step closer to being into control of your life, rather than allowing outside circumstances to dictate how you feel.
I use these tips and I teach my clients how to use them. As a reminder, this isn’t clinical advice, or even advice at all. Just sharing what’ worked well for me, and what I’ve seen in the research.
1. Maintain a consistent daily schedule
Maintaining a consistent daily schedule is so important for our mental health outlook. I discuss this concept in-depth in various other posts on this site. Clearly, I believe that establishing a daily routine is vital to your health and wellbeing.
Why? Because humans are creatures of habit. When the rest of the world is chaotic and uncertain, a well-developed and curated routine can help ground us.
For me, my routine keeps me focused throughout the day, and helps me to accomplish the tasks I’ve decided will help me get to my goals.
Now, if you’ve never established a routine before, don’t get overwhelmed. Take a look at your current daily activities, and chances are, you’ll find some semblance of a routine.
Maybe you always eat dinner at 5pm or you always wake up at the same time. Noticing these pieces is a great start to establishing a good routine.
Once you’ve begun to notice your typical routine, use it to create your ideal routine. This is the daily schedule that you believe will best help you reach your goals.
For me, this looks like waking up, reading and prayer/meditation and getting ready for work. Later in the morning, I have a protein snack (lately I’ve been loving me some almonds and citrus) and take my daily vitamins. When I come home for the evening, I do some yoga, eat dinner, and then study for my counseling licensure exam.
As you can see, this routine I’ve listed is MUCH different than the routine I used last spring. I had a different job and different personal goals at the time.
My point is that routines can change when we need them to. But it’s important to stick with them when they work well for us. A consistent daily schedule and routine helps keep us grounded and focused despite ongoing changes in our environment.
2. Continue Your Physical Movement
Just because many of us have gone back to work, school, and otherwise does not mean we can give up our exercise!
Exercise is vital to our mental health, in addition to our physical health. When we move our bodies, we release those sought-after endorphins that not only make us feel good, but also help the rest of our bodies run the way that they should.
When our bodies our healthy, our minds can be healthy too.
Without the proper conditions, our health will falter. That’s why it’s SO important to maintain a physical movement, even when we don’t fee like it.
Related: Three Reasons to Choose Movement Instead of Your Workout Routine
Now, I’m not saying you have to pick up kickboxing or HITT workouts. Instead, I’m saying find what feels good to your body and do something you enjoy. This might be yoga, or walks with your spouse, or maybe it’s mowing the lawn because mowing season has started again!
You get to choose what movement is best for your body. AND you get to make that choice every singly stinking day. For me, I go back and forth between yoga and walks after dinner. These are my favorites.
Choose the movement that best suits your own physical needs. But always choose movement because it supports your whole-body wellness.
3. Remain Connected with Others
During this crazy season of life, it’s been so easy to isolate and distance ourselves from others.
While Skype and Zoom and other teleconferencing was popular last spring and summer, today much of the hype has calmed down as people have shifted back into their normal routines.
BUT people still aren’t getting together and socializing in the same ways we used to pre-pandemic. Although the pandemic has changed the ways we are socially allowed to connect, it hasn’t limited or diminished the human need for relationship.
Even if you aren’t comfortable spending time in-person with other people yet, make sure to designate times to spend with others on the phone, through teleconferencing, or quality time with the people in your household.
The connection we have with others is often what drives us and motivates us to engage in life and society. Don’t let your external stressors dictate whether your need for connection is met.
4. Get Off Social Media
Is social media true connection? Absolutely not.
While you might be able to engage with others via messenger and comments, social media has the potential to add so much negativity to your life that vastly outweighs most benefits that the social aspects provide.
Think about it. Does mindless scrolling actually do you any good? Does comparing your life to other people’s staged and photoshopped images help you? That’s a big “no” to both.
Social media has the potential to bring down the quality of our mental health as a whole. While I’m not saying that we need to eliminate social media entirely, I am saying we need to use it more mindfully to protect our own ability to self-regulate.
Comparison most certainly steals your joy, so when I notice that I’m using social media without a specific intention, I make a strong choice and close the tab, app, or put down my device entirely.
This is certainly a difficult task, since social media is so enticing, but I’ve written an entire post about how to have better boundaries with your social media accounts if you’re interested.
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5. Remind yourself of What You’re Thankful For
Gratitude. Thankfulness. Remembering what you are blessed with.
Each of these tasks is simple and easy to do and it has a HUGE impact on how we perceive our environments.
Being grateful by making a list of three things that you are thankful for each day for thirty days has been demonstrated in numerous research studies to actually improve your mood.
Guys – not too many concrete and tangible things have been shown to improve your mental health in the way that gratitude has! I sure want to take advantage!
For example, during the month of July last year, my gratitude list includes the opportunity to spend time with my husband, eating good food, time to reflect, growth in my plant garden, among other really great things. If you looked at my gratitude list, you’d think my life was perfect and great that month because the things I listed each day truly were blessings that I’m thankful for.
What you wouldn’t know is that this is the month I also got furloughed at my job due to the pandemic, had to find a new internship location and supervisor within two weeks to complete my degree, and started the stressful process of finding other financial resources to support myself and my husband. It was quite a battle!
But by focusing on the things I was grateful for each day, my mood was not altered or affected by the changing events of my environment. I was able to maintain a positive attitude and stay hopeful, so much so that a few people even commented on how bright my mood was, knowing what had happened in my life earlier in the month.
Through gratitude, you can change your focus. You can change your own narrative and story. You can positively impact your own mental health just by saying, “I am thankful” today.
6. Focus on your “One Good Thing” Today
Last but certainly not least, I like to focus on what I call, “my one good thing”.
If you know me, you know I’m somewhat of a perfectionist. While this is something I recognize does not serve me and that I’m working on changing, I also recognize that the first twenty years of my life were devoted to developing perfectionistic tendencies, so they’re not going to disappear overnight just because I want them to.
So, sometimes, it’s really easy for me to engage in negative self-talk when I don’t meet my own personal standards (which tend to be too high anyways). For example, I typically have a to-do list running in the back of my mind for each day. When I don’t finish my to do list, it’s easy to make myself feel guilty for falling short, even if that to-do list was miles long and impossible to complete.
BUT a trick that I’ve learned to change my perspective and support my mental health is identifying “my one good thing”. If I complete or engage in this ONE thing, it’s been a good day.
This isn’t typically a new skill or activity that I don’t like doing because the point is to have grace for yourself and know that despite a challenging environment that we all live in today, you can still be pleased with your experience of today.
Today, my one good thing was making my lunches for each day this week. I made soup. It’s been a good day.
Selecting my own good thing helps me to remember to have grace with myself. The key is focusing on progress not perfection. We can’t expect ourselves to know it all, do it all, and be it all, especially when the world around us is so unstable.
How Are You Maintaining Your Mental Health?
So, what’s your one good thing today? These six tips – maintaining a consistent schedule, continuing physical movement, remaining connected, reducing social media, being grateful, and focusing on your one good thing – can certainly help to maintain your mental health despite the ongoing effects from the 2020 pandemic. But they can also help with just general mental health too, even if you aren’t experiencing rapid or impactful changes in your environment.
Will you use one of these tips to support your mental health? Do you have additional mental health tips to help cope with today’s external stressors that I didn’t include here?
Let me know in the comments below! I’m always interested to hear what you all think and looking for additional tips to improve my own mental health and that of others.
Disclaimer: Although I am a mental health professional, I am not YOUR mental health professional. The information provided on this website is for educational and informational purposes only and using this website does not establish a counselor-client relationship, or constitute provision of mental health services. I am not responsible for any damages resulting from your use of the content on this site, as the information provided does not substitute for collaboration with a health professional. Please consult with your health professional before making changes to your health regimen.