By now all of us have heard the guidelines and recommendations put forward by the experts regarding safeguarding our mental health. During the past months I feel I have experienced a range of emotions amongst my own circle of friends and family.
“How are you managing?” “How are you feeling?”
Questions which elicited answers in the beginning like, “Good. Doing what we have to do to contribute to the wellbeing of all.”
We are entering the fourth month of our social distancing – a time like no other. People sound more exasperated answering the “how are you?” question with fatigue. “I am doing as well as I can…. like everyone else.” “I am overwhelmed by it all somedays.” “I feel anxiety about the future more often as this pandemic continues.” “I feel a loss of confidence in our world solving this any time soon.”
It continues to be imperative to address our mental health well-being throughout COVID-19. Many older adults are isolated, lonely, frightened, angry, and anxious. These feelings put those who are already dealing with depression, substance use disorder, and other mental health illnesses at greater risk.
We have all heard the message before but according to The Rule of Seven, an old marketing adage, you need to see or hear a message at least seven times before taking action.
At the risk of repeat, it bodes well to visit the topic of staying in tune with your own mental health.
The National Council on Aging outlines tips for managing mental health during COVID 19. (Kathleen Cameron, 4/3/20)
- Stay informed and take practical steps to protect yourself and loved ones. Get the facts from trusted sources, such as the CDC, World Health Organization, your local health organization and National Council on Aging (NCOA).
I have found it a healthy distraction to shut the news sources down on weekends. Taking a break from the news does not mean I am ill informed. It gives me a chance to build upon optimism and set aside fears for a brief time. It is a successful distraction that works well for me.
- Engage in healthy activities. Get enough sleep; eat a healthy and well-balanced diet; avoid smoking, drinking. Exercise body and mind through meditation, walking, gardening and exercise routines.
These choices may not always be easy to follow. It is challenging to be disciplined about healthy activities, and too easy to fall back to poor choices about diet. I have found making use of early morning hours beneficial. I am awake so why not utilize the time? A fairly rigorous bicycle ride of 45 minutes in the early morning hours, allows for a quieter time where you are not competing with car traffic or foot traffic. Twice last week, while riding through a wooded city street, I came upon a deer as interested in watching me as I gave pause to do with it.
- Stick to regular routines and integrate old and new enjoyable hobbies into your daily routine.
This takes a forced concentration which means a lessening of negative thoughts. I finally addressed some household projects that I had excused away because of not having the time. Turns out that was a convenient excuse. Now, after 8 months of needing to repaint bathroom walls damaged from a burst pipe, I stuck to the routine and completed the task in a few days.
I bought a sewing machine, an old hobby that had gone by the wayside and I broke out jigsaw puzzles that I haven’t yet tackled but have always enjoyed doing.
- Stay connected with family, friends, and other support networks. Talk with someone about your needs and feelings. Maybe have a daily check-in with your support person.
I connect daily with my best friend in Canada. We prefer text and email and did before COVID. We both like the written word and it needs no previous arrangements of convenience. It is how I most often reach out to others on a rotating basis.
- Try as much as possible to be positive and relish the simple things in life. People are finding uplifting moments and sharing these online. It is easy to find beauty and kindness all around us.
I have my favorite social media platforms which guarantee inspiration and appreciation.
There are many feel good stories online. You will find them easily if you know how to google. And if you like to laugh and find it a good stress reliever, you will have a plethora of social media stories and videos that will fit the bill.
- Help others. This gives a sense of purpose and feelings of control during these times. There are many ways of achieving this even though for many older adults limiting social contact is imperative. Food banks need our financial support. Check your city website to find out what kinds of volunteer help they may need. It might not be right now, but much help will be needed going forward.
Certainly, if you have an existing therapist or counselor, make sure you continue to check in with that professional. Telemedicine – whether video or phone chats – is the current method of therapy sessions due to our social distancing policies.
There are many good resources to utilize for mental health support.
- National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI). The helpline is 800-950-NAMI.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255
- Disaster Distress Helpline – 1-800-985-5990. This is a 24/7 crisis support service run by Substance Abuse & Mental Health Service Administration.
Our Information and Referral Services department is available to assist our consumers, all professionals, and our community partner agencies during this Coronavirus crisis. Our dedicated staff is working remotely but nothing changes in the ways they can help.
To reach our Information and Referral Services Department in Lawrence please call 978-683-7747 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jayne Girodat is the Communications Specialist at Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore, Inc. Along with ten years in the position of Caregiver Support Specialist at another ASAP, Jayne was a long-distance caregiver to parents for the same amount of time. That experience serves as motivation to better understand the issues of aging and to engage people in conversations about those issues. Jayne’s background in teaching contributes to her appreciation of social media as a tool to educate readers on aging concerns. “I love asking people questions. Everyone likes to be heard. When you ask and then listen, you’ll find everyone has a story and some of those stories are gems. I think it is particularly important to hear the voices of our older adults. Those are the stories I really connect to and hope to bring to Elder Services’ audience.”