Living Well

Managing your mental health during stressful times

Managing your mental health during stressful times

During these unprecedented times, you may be feeling a variety of different emotions. You could be experiencing stress, sadness or anger in reaction to events of the past few months or recent days.

The effects of emotional stress on the body can be damaging. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention states the symptoms of stress and common reactions to a stressful event include:

  • Disbelief and shock
  • Tension and irritability
  • Fear and anxiety about the future
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Feeling numb
  • Loss of interest in normal activities
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nightmares and recurring thoughts about the event
  • Anger
  • Increased use of alcohol and drugs
  • Sadness and other symptoms of depression

Stress can also have real effects on your health, leading to conditions such as high blood pressure, suppressed immune system and increased susceptibility to illness. It’s important to take care of yourself to prevent these negative effects of stress. Taking care of yourself and your loved ones can help you cope with stress and assist in making your community stronger. Here are a few additional ways to cope with stress and boost your mental health:

Care for your body

Choose to do activities and have a routine that will help you feel mentally and physically well. Getting enough sleep is critical, as rest is what your body needs to recharge. Eating healthy and exercising are other ways to boost your physical and mental health.

Take time to check in with yourself throughout the day

Take inventory. Mentally scan your body and notice what it is saying you need in this moment. You may notice muscle tension, fatigue, pain, hunger, thirst, increased heartrate, rapid breathing, etc. Tend to your basic needs first. Then, take a moment to label your current emotional state (e.g., anxious, sad, excited, calm). Take a few minutes to tend to your emotions using stress management strategies or coping skills. When you are feeling anxious or upset, try taking deep breaths (slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth), stretch, or meditate. If you are in a good mood, taking time to reflect on things you are grateful for can help to maintain your mood. Other self-care activities include taking a walk, riding your bike, connecting with a friend, snuggling with your pet, writing in a journal, crafting, coloring, taking a hot bath, sharing a funny meme or GIF with a coworker, or reading a book. Remember that a single strategy may not work for every situation. Thus, it can help to write down a list of strategies that have been helpful for you at one point or another so if one doesn’t do the trick, you can try another!

Take a hiatus from all forms of media

Reading updates about current world events can be upsetting and mentally draining. Consider taking a few days for yourself to relax and reset. Log out of your social media accounts and take a break from watching and reading news stories.

Stay connected with your family and friends

Talk to people you trust about how you’re feeling. When going through a stressful situation you may want to withdraw from your loved ones but surrounding yourself with people who love you will help you feel better. Maintaining your relationships is good for your mental health. It takes a village and you are part of that village even when you feel alone.

Create a daily routine

Ongoing stressors can interfere with the rhythm of your day-to-day life. Although it is often the case that things about the situation are beyond your control, it is important to identify aspects of the situation that you can control. Establishing a regular routine during times of uncertainty is one way to relieve stress. It is key to include self-care in your daily routine and increase the amount of time allotted for self-care when your stress level is high. Try to be consistent and engage in various tasks/activities at the same time each day. Allow for some flexibility and revise your routine as needed. Schedule breaks into your work day and avoid skipping lunch. In your free time, seek out hobbies and other activities that help you relax and make you feel calm and grounded.

Seek professional help when needed
If you feel stressed out for an extended period of time or notice that stress is having an impact on your work, relationships, or functioning in other areas, talk to your healthcare provider about possible treatment options. If you are feeling suicidal, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room for immediate help.

Practice Self-Compassion

When you are not at your best, try to be there for yourself in the same way that you would be there for a friend going through a hard time. Ask yourself, “what would I say if I were talking to a friend who was in my current predicament?” Then, repeat the answer to that question but direct inward toward yourself. Some tools for fostering self-compassion include loving-kindness meditations and positive affirmations.

Click here for a list of community resources and outpatient psychiatry programs in and around New Orleans.