COVID-19 has shifted the way people go about their daily lives. From home life to work life, everyone adjusted routines. A survey taken in June from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that 40.9% of people surveyed have experienced some form of mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression.
While it’s natural to feel stressed and anxious in challenging times, mental health experts recommend acknowledging and accepting these feelings as they arise. Understanding and taking care of your mental health will help with your long-term health, both mentally and physically.
Luckily, Arizona GEAR UP’s Executive Director, Robert Neese, MSW, has a background in mental health counseling and cognitive-behavioral curriculum development for therapeutic mentoring with youth and families. This work includes extensive experience counseling and teaching young people and their parents how to STOP and capture their negative “automatic” thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Cognitive-behavioral strategies, such as mindfulness activities, exercises, and routines, help people better understand the correlation between what they Think (cognition), Feel (emotions), and how they React (behavior) to life’s challenges. This is known as the Cognitive Triangle.
In practice settings, Robert worked with youth and families to apply cognitive-behavioral strategies to the domains of their “personhood.” While not exclusive, the domains include their physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, social, and academic or professional selves. Robert helped people assess and determine a healthy balance, within each of their domains. These same strategies can help now during the pandemic.
Robert suggests making a list of what balance looks like in each domain and identifying imbalances as they arise. With the pandemic as an example—if the pandemic has decreased the opportunities for someone to stay balanced “socially,” this may negatively impact the balance in the “psychological” domain, leading to a sense of increased isolation. For someone needing social connectedness to maintain balance, this isolation over time could lead to depression. The more aware we are of these tendencies and relationships between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, the better we can STOP them when they are overly negative, irrational, unhealthy, and/or unhelpful. Robert teaches people to remember these strategies by having them use the 3 C’s: Catch – Check – Change. Catch the thought early and check for balance or imbalance, and change or revise it as necessary to restore balance. This is an example of mindfulness, which can be very helpful as part of a self-care routine.
Another exercise Robert suggests involves extending empathy in action by writing down the names of two or three people going through something similar, or experiencing their own unique struggles, which reminds us that we aren’t alone in facing life’s challenges. Then, reach out to those people, putting their needs and circumstances above your own for a period, which he calls looking at life through someone else’s “glasses or lenses.” This intentional act helps bring balance to our personal domains, by broadening our inward view to include the circumstances of others, thus reducing our sense of isolation, and increasing our connectedness and community while we are socially distanced.
For more information on what you can do to help cope with the stress from COVID-19 please visit the Centers for Disease Control and the New England Journal of Medicine