When I pursued the route of becoming a therapist after suffering from depression and an eating disorder in my early 20’s, I never know how important my work would become. Living through the last year as a human was hard, counseling other humans through the last year was really hart… but it was also a gift. I say it was a gift because every time I met with a client I was reminded I wasn’t alone in my struggle as we all navigated a “new normal”…. you’re not alone either. Here is some reason why mental health matters more now than ever and steps to take to make sure you’re prioritizing your mental health.
Covid-19 Has Affected Mental Health Worldwide
The amount of loss we all witnesses and lived through during the Covid-19 pandemic was/is insurmountable. I don’t know a single soul that wasn’t affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Living through a pandemic with its stressors and extensive limits to social interaction–has made mental health challenges even more prevalent, so much so, that as we start to move into the new “normal,” we will continue to see the widespread effects it has on the future of public health. Studies show that mental health side affects after a global disaster don’t peak until 3 years after the disaster. Previous health crises like “The Great Depression” have been associated with increased rates of substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
We must become a trauma informed society. The loss of loved ones, jobs, time spent with others….this is a trauma and the body doesn’t care how your mind might try to minimize it. Trauma is trauma and is stored in the body as such when the nervous system is activated. Countless times I’ve sat across from individuals expressing how they experienced a trauma only to minimize it by comparing it to someone else’s seemingly “bigger trauma”. My response is the same: minimizing trauma doesn’t do anyone any good. Acceptance is the first step; accept how you feel and release any shame or judgment attached to it….then we roll up our sleeves and get to work.
What can we do?
- Normalize Mental Health and Wellness: Share with your friends and be open about seeking help. The world we be a much better place if everyone had a therapist; so the more we share a We need to have honest conversations with each other about how we care for our mental health in order to normalize it and reduce shame and stigma.
- Check on your friends: ask your friends how they are doing mentally and share the resources you have found that are helping you!
- Listen to podcasts & audiobooks on topics that are affecting you. There is no shortage of professionals giving away free information and help on the internet. Some of my favorite resources and books are: NAMI: National Alliance On Mental Illness, How To Do the Work By Dr. Nicole LePera, The Body Keeps The Score By Bessel van de Kolk, Waking The Tiger By Peter Levine, In and Unspoken Voice: The Bodies Ability to Heal From Trauma by Peter Levine, The Unspoken Podcast, Onsite Workshops, The Living Centered Podcast, Unlocking Us Podcast, Expanded Podcast, How To Breathe by Ashley Nease. I also have an online course called Creating Your Calm that has been effective in helping members to release anxiety and stress.
- Unplug: The majority of our days are now spent in front of a screen; set a timer on apps that easily distract you and take up time and be intentional about unplugging an hour before bed. The blue light from screens activates your brain to stay awake. Reducing blue light intake helps your body’s natural circadian rhythm.
- Create Good Sleep Hygiene: Poor sleep is linked to physical problems such as a weakened immune system and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Adjusting the light, noise and temperature in your bedroom and changing your eating, drinking and exercise routines can all have a healthy affect on your sleep.
- Move: Moving your body has wonderful affects on the body and brain. Have you ever gone on a walk with a friend and talked about something you were struggling with? You probably felt better after walking and talking because you were using both sides of your brain while doing so. It’s called bilateral stimulation and has similar affects to therapies like EMDR. This is one of the reasons I was trained in Nonlinear Movement. The Nonlinear Movement Method allows the body to move what you feel while remaining grounded on all fours. The NLMM regulates your body and counteracts the “freeze” response from trauma. This exercise helps smooth out the nervous system, process emotions, releases trauma patterns into flow, unites the mind and body with physical sensations creating more intimacy with oneself and opens access to bodily wisdom. Click here to learn more.
- Eat Well: Stress affects every system of our body, including the gut. It’s no coincidence that GI problems are one of the issues most commonly experienced by people dealing anxiety. Stress affects our food choices and the makeup of our microbiome in our gut which consists of millions of neurons that connect to the brain. In fact, 90% of the neurotransmitter serotonin, commonly referred to as “the happy hormone” is made in our gut. No wonder I always feel like I’m going to throw up or pass out before I have a speaking event. It also helps to understand the Polyvalgal theory by Dr. Stephan Porges. The polyvagal refers to the vagus nerve, which connects the brain and the gut. The vagus nerve connects ever major organ to the brain through branches of sensory fibers. When the vagus nerve is activated and it enters into the digestive system, fight-or-flight responses can happen almost immediately. You can improve your vagal tone through “top-down” approaches like meditation and “bottom-up” approaches like breath work, cold therapy, nonlinear movement, and yoga. These exercises build resilience and in increase the ability to quickly recover from triggers. My favorite way to reset my gut health is by doing the 5 day detox cleanse or a weekly plant-based meal plan from Sakaralife.com. (They gave a 15% off code for you if you’re interested. Use code: XOCHRISSYP).
- Breathe: Breathwork is like grabbing the wheel of your mind and directing it where you want it to go. Breathing exercises send oxygen to our cells and can calm down our arousal response to stressors. Below are 6 Relaxation Techniques from Harvard Medical School:
1. Breath focus. In this simple, powerful technique, you take long, slow, deep breaths (also known as abdominal or belly breathing). As you breathe, you gently disengage your mind from distracting thoughts and sensations. Breath focus can be especially helpful for people with eating disorders to help them focus on their bodies in a more positive way. However, this technique may not be appropriate for those with health problems that make breathing difficult, such as respiratory ailments or heart failure.
2. Body scan. This technique blends breath focus with progressive muscle relaxation. After a few minutes of deep breathing, you focus on one part of the body or group of muscles at a time and mentally releasing any physical tension you feel there. A body scan can help boost your awareness of the mind-body connection. If you have had a recent surgery that affects your body image or other difficulties with body image, this technique may be less helpful for you.
3. Guided imagery. For this technique, you conjure up soothing scenes, places, or experiences in your mind to help you relax and focus. You can find free apps and online recordings of calming scenes—just make sure to choose imagery you find soothing and that has personal significance. Guided imagery may help you reinforce a positive vision of yourself, but it can be difficult for those who have intrusive thoughts or find it hard to conjure up mental images.
4. Mindfulness meditation. This practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing, and bringing your mind’s attention to the present moment without drifting into concerns about the past or the future. This form of meditation has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years. Research suggests it may be helpful for people with anxiety, depression, and pain.
5. Yoga, tai chi, and qigong. These three ancient arts combine rhythmic breathing with a series of postures or flowing movements. The physical aspects of these practices offer a mental focus that can help distract you from racing thoughts. They can also enhance your flexibility and balance. But if you are not normally active, have health problems, or a painful or disabling condition, these relaxation techniques might be too challenging. Check with your doctor before starting them.
6. Repetitive prayer. For this technique, you silently repeat a short prayer or phrase from a prayer while practicing breath focus. This method may be especially appealing if religion or spirituality is meaningful to you.
- Find a therapist: Word of mouth is always the best way to find a therapist in your area, you can also discover therapists on Instagram, Psychologytoday.com and betterhelp.com.
*Disclaimer: No content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.