On Thursday, April 2, Impact100 Metro Detroit hosted the second in their series of Coffee & Conversation virtual events. This week’s topic was “Mental Health in Times of Crisis,” and our guest was Nancy Buyle, a Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Social Worker and Certified Trauma Consultant. Nancy offered insight into what we are feeling now, how to deal with those feelings, and how to move forward as positively as possible while navigating our “new normal.”
First, Nancy told us that the emotions we are feeling – isolation, fear, anger, anxiety, helplessness, hyper-vigilance – are normal. Physical symptoms, such as stomach upset, are also normal. All are reactions to the stress we are facing. Our brains are wired to search for situations we have faced before to see if we can apply any lessons learned to our present situation. Unfortunately, most of us have not faced this kind of situation previously, so our brain does not know how to proceed. This causes the stress we are feeling. The good news is that there are ways we can help ourselves cope.
Fear and anxiety often make us want to pull away from social connections. First, we need to recognize this if it happens to us. Second, we need to accept this as a natural response (stress has caused our brain to revert to our fight/flight/freeze response to danger). Then we need to take steps to move through avoidance and reconnect. We can think of this crisis as a hurricane, and try to find the eye of the storm. From the calm of the eye, we can stay connected to those around us. Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help us find the eye of the storm. Apps for our phones, like Calm, can help with guided meditations.
Sleep, Exercise, and Eat Well
Our subconscious mind works out issues while we sleep, compartmentalizing stressors, making them easier to deal with. Regular sleep allows this process time to happen. Many of us, however, are struggling to let our mind relax enough to fall asleep. Nancy encouraged us to write all the swirling thoughts down on paper. They don’t even have to make sense as written; we just need to let them out. Also, practicing positive self-talk right before sleep, like reminding ourselves we can get through this, is very helpful. In addition, try to exercise and eat well. Our bodies need extra care to deal with stress.
Using specific strategies to calm our minds can be very helpful. Bringing ourselves into the present moment (mindfulness) takes our mind away from panic and allows us to concentrate on the tasks at hand. Focused breathing can be helpful, as can the “senses” exercise. To place yourself in the present moment, look for 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Once you are grounded, you can better use your typical coping mechanisms to feel better.
Help Your Family While Remembering Yourself
We have all heard the safely speech on the airplane that tells us to place our own oxygen mask first and then help others. We must fill our own hearts before we can give our love and care to others. That being said, when caring for our kids we can best help them by validating their own fears and sadness and helping them to know that they can cope. Let them use technology to connect with their peers. Encourage them to find creative solutions when they miss events – why not have virtual proms or choir concerts? Have family meetings to brainstorm new household routines. And remind them that no one has all the answers right now, but this crisis will not last forever.
A New Normal
Mental health is a practice – we work at it on a daily basis. Remembering that this crisis came suddenly and we need time to find our best coping mechanisms is helpful. We also need to remember that this will end. Thinking about a return to normal life now will help us readjust more easily when that happens. We don’t know exactly what the new normal will look like, so remaining flexible is important. Many changes that result from this crisis may be good ones that we will want to hang on to. And as we navigate our new normal, practicing radical compassion, toward others and ourselves, will help steer us through.
You can find worksheets and helpful charts at knowresolve.org/resources.