Mental Health Awareness: Coping During COVID
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to put the spotlight on the importance of legitimizing mental health and breaking the stigma associated with mental health disorders. This year’s theme from the CDC is an especially apt one right now: Be Kind to Your Mind. When it comes to how we’re feeling during this unprecedented time, it’s hard to lean into true kindness. Instead, it’s easy to say to someone reaching out for help, “just cheer up,” while we worry about bills, rent, the health of our loved ones and neighbors, and the general state of the world around us.
There are some who can adopt a positive way of thinking right now better than others. For the others, you’re not alone. Here are some ways to better cope with what’s happening as well as a list of local resources that could help you or someone you know in a time where we all need a little extra care.
Coping Takes Courage
Coping is all about our ability to confront head-on the obstacles we face during trauma and setbacks, which we are all facing one way or another right now. If there’s one constant in life that we can depend on, it’s change, and saying a lot has changed in a very short amount of time is an understatement. It’s hard to wrap our minds around the full extent of what’s going on and what that means for the future. There’s no right way to cope with this change, either – it’s all personal.
“Coping isn’t a box you can check. Coping is a continuum, a line between two extremes … do I cope poorly or do I tend to do really well facing challenges?” said Dr. Joël Núñez, a clinical psychologist born and raised in Jersey City with a psychological services practice, Prov 205, in neighboring Bayonne. Check out our full Instagram live chat with him on coping, adapting, and thriving through hardship. “Everything in nature yields to pressure and the only being in nature that is reluctant to change is us. Instead, we try to evade change and the pain it can cause and find things to take the pain away.”
Get Back into a Healthy Routine
One of those ways a lot of us are coping with change is abandoning our old routines and taking on new, unhealthier ones that might feel good now, like sleeping in until 2:00 p.m. and binge-watching Netflix while the sun sets and rises again, but will hurt us in the long-term.
“One of the major symptoms people are reporting during this time is that their sense of time is evaporating,” said Dr. Núñez. “All notion of time is out the window because each of us before this crisis began had external demands on our time. You know you had to be in bed by a certain time in order to be up by 4:30 in the morning to catch the train to get to your job. Well, now, that no longer is the case.”
Our bodies crave routine and work best with a healthy schedule of sleeping and eating meals. Without a set sleep-wake schedule, our minds and bodies are left guessing, leaving us to feel more rundown despite sleeping more and moving less, which negatively affects our mental health. If we’re feeling rundown, we don’t want to try to improve the situation, so we keep sleeping in and doing mindless activities, and eventually get stuck in an unhealthy loop that will make it harder to dig ourselves out of when it comes time to “go back to normal.”
One way to avoid the spiral is to impose upon ourselves a schedule and have the discipline to stick to that schedule. Start small: set an alarm for the time you normally got up before COVID and force yourself out of bed to shower or make coffee to get you moving and less likely to go back to bed. Eat at regular intervals. Clean up. Still play video games, watch TV, or do any activity that brings you joy during this time, but schedule that time and don’t make it the majority of your day. Then, set another alarm to go to bed at an appropriate time to get up and do it again tomorrow. It might feel pointless at first to set a routine with nowhere to go, but it will help avoid the hole a lot of us used to get into on pre-COVID weekends when binge-watching Netflix and ignoring the time was a relaxing treat and not a coping mechanism during a pandemic.
Add a Little Movement to Your Day
The weather is warming up and trying to draw us out from under our blankets and off our couches. For those of us voluntarily self-quarantining, we do still have the ability to leave the house to soak in a little sun as long as we are responsible. Parks are open, but wear a mask. Be respectful of others’ space and stay six feet apart. Allow yourself to take a long walk or bike ride to get the blood moving. Vitamin D has been studied to aid in helping those suffering from seasonal depression and raise serotonin and dopamine levels, while exercise strengthens immune functions and releases endorphins that also help to improve mood, something we all need right now. It’s worth it to put on a clean pair of stretchy pants and drag yourself outside for a bit, even just to sit on your stoop with a book.
Not all of us have the luxury of going outside, though, or, frankly, don’t want to leave the safety of our houses, and that’s OK, too. There are plenty of online options for exercise inside to fit any level of ability, especially for free on YouTube. Check out our article on skills to learn during quarantine for a long list of local gyms, trainers, and yoga studios offering online classes you can sign up for today and get those endorphins pumping from home.
Be Kinder to Yourself
One way many of us are finding comfort is by taking on new projects, discovering new hobbies, or staying busy with work. If social media is to be believed, everyone is creating beautiful works of art, doing amazing home renovations, or teaching their perfectly behaved children yoga. Some people thrive in isolation with hyper productivity or put up a convincing facade, at least, and for those of us who struggle for hours to write a single email or bring ourselves to wash a single mug in the sink, scrolling through Instagram can take a hit to self esteem and our mental health. It’s easier said than done, but we can’t hold ourselves to the same standards as others and let it bring us down when we feel like we’re behind.
“Thriving is an individual matter because everyone is not at the same starting point,” said Dr. Núñez. “When everything else is stripped away, you and I still have a choice: will we allow our attitude to make us bitter and to break us or will we remain hopeful with a sense of meaning?”
It’s OK to not be productive. It’s OK that you didn’t write the next great American novel during quarantine. It’s OK that the biggest victory of your day was taking a shower. Thrive on your own merits and at your own pace. Be proud that you got out of bed or put on a pair of jeans for the first time in weeks. Be proud that you answered a few of the unopened texts from friends and loved ones you’ve been putting off. Be proud of any little accomplishment and let that carry you into the next one and the next one until we aren’t measuring ourselves against how other people are presenting their lives right now. That’s how we’ll stay hopeful and thrive in our own, small ways to get us through to the light at the end of this seemingly unending tunnel.
Help Yourself and Others Thrive: Mental Health Resources
While we ask you to take extra kindness on yourself and others now, it’s just as important to apply that sentiment all year long to people suffering in silence. Thankfully, kindness doesn’t seem to be in short supply in Jersey City right now.
If you or someone you know is in need of help with their mental health, please reach out to Dr. Núñez and the following national and local resources in Hudson County, provided by the Jersey City Department of Health & Human Services:
Tele-Mental Health phone and video conferencing appointments
FREE telepsychiatry services for JC residents. This team includes MD’s, psychiatric nurse practitioners, social workers, dieticians, and primary care physicians. To contact them email email@example.com or call 347-282-9523.
Mobile Crisis Team
24-hour mobile response service for Hudson County children and adults in need of emergency psychiatric evaluation. Call 866-367-6023 to contact them.
Resources, events, alerts, tips, updates on JC COVID-19 response.
Open 7 days a week, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m for Hudson County residents age 18+. Call 201-885-2539 to speak with someone.
Open 24/7 free for anyone to call in distress. Call 800-273-8255.
Open 24/7 for youth and young adults, offers texting options. Call 888-222-2228.
For tips for people affected by mental illness during COVID-19, visit their website or text NAMI to 741741.