- We all have experienced trauma and stress in the COVID-19 pandemic, but we can take steps to adapt and carry on.
- There are practical steps we can take to help us adapt and improve our mental health.
- Process your thoughts, connect with others, don’t compare, care for your body, know it will take time, give yourself grace, and ask for help.
After the trauma and stress inflicted by the pandemic over the past year, it’s more important than ever to focus on taking care of our mental health. There’s no better time to do that than in May, which since 1949 has been designated as Mental Health Awareness Month .
Mental Health America , founded in 1909, offers useful resources and screens to assess your mental health, determine where you might want to focus your efforts, and understand when you might want to consider seeking assistance.
Because trauma and stress have been so widespread in the pandemic—leading to record levels of anxiety, depression, and grief—let’s look at the seven areas that Mental Health America suggests can use our attention as we try to adapt to our “new” post-COVID-19 lives:
Process your thoughts
Give yourself time and space to reflect on what you have experienced and witnessed in the pandemic. Day after day, we have been inundated with news of serious illness, death, and sorrow. It’s hard to make sense of all the fear and loss when the contagion seemed to selectively strike the most vulnerable of us and inflict even more hardship on so many who already were living hard lives. Take the time you need to sort through your thoughts and feelings. This is the foundation for healing.
Don’t compare your experience to others’
Just because someone “seems” to have escaped unscathed from the trauma and stress doesn’t mean they actually have done so. They may simply be suppressing their feelings because they’re afraid of honestly confronting them. Claim your right to your own experience and truth, regardless of what anyone else thinks about it. Push back against anyone who tries to dismiss your experience. Chances are good they aren’t dealing with their own experience in a healthy way.
Take care of your body
Maintaining your physical health is vitally important to your mental health—and vice versa. Eat healthy, nutritious food. Exercise and move around, especially if your work requires you to sit for long periods of time. Get outside for a walk or hike. You will be amazed by how rejuvenating it is simply to walk among trees and flowers, listen to birds singing, and enjoy the unfolding of the new springtime.
Know it will take time
Your mental health and well-being are not regulated by anyone’s time clock—not even your own, really. So don’t heap on even more stress by giving yourself “deadlines” by which you will “have it all together.” Mental health care isn’t something that can be scheduled or limited to a specific number of days, weeks, months, or even years. Caring for your mental health, adapting after trauma and stress, will take however much time it takes. No apologies are needed for taking “longer” than you (or anyone else) think it “should” take.
Give yourself grace
Accept that you have suffered and had a tough time. Speak kindly (in your internal “self-talk”) to yourself as you would to a dear friend who is having a tough time. Be gentle with yourself. Show yourself compassion and give yourself the space and time you need to get back on your emotional feet and recover your balance.
Don’t feel ashamed to ask for help
Reaching out for support—from a friend or a therapist—is the opposite of weakness; it’s an act of strength because it demonstrates that you are taking charge of your mental health, rather than allowing trauma and stress to control you. Reject the stigma some people still attach to mental health and mental illness. There is no shame in wanting to be well and to function at your best. Take pride in taking care of your mental health, just as you would take care of your physical health if you were physically ill or injured.
Although the pandemic has caused all kinds of medical damage and harm, we don’t have to let it keep on damaging and harming our mental health. This Mental Health Awareness Month, choose to take care of your mental health and claim your resilience.
To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.