It’s really important right now to stay mentally well. But how can we mere mortals do that?
Today, many Americans are getting vaccinated against the coronavirus. Some of us are returning to the workplace; some kids are getting back into their classrooms.
Meanwhile, all of us are looking forward to better times ahead.
Yet millions upon millions of us remain homebound and isolated because of today’s continued social distancing requirements as well as quarantining, lack of mobility, and lack of flexibility as the nation works mightily to turn the corner against COVID-19 after a full year of it (or more) within our borders.
To remain mentally well, the first thing we must do is acknowledge that we’re facing a time of uncertainty and unpredictability—and that we’re not alone in this predicament.
“We feel a lack of control,” said Jane Pernotto Ehrman, a specialist in mind-body medicine, in a recent interview. Ehrman spent 16 years as a behavioral health therapist with the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative and Preventative Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, and today is a clinical hypnotherapist, certified in interactive guided imagery.
Most of us, throughout our lives, “have a tendency to focus on areas where we don’t have control, such as with laws and regulations,” said Ehrman. Instead, she advised that—especially now—“we should focus on where we do have control, and that’s in the choices we make. When we choose, we are empowered.”
At a time of enormous challenge, here are tips for staying mentally well—and for choosing wisely throughout our days.
ONE: Practice mindfulness. It’s smart to “make space” for quiet and stillness. “Going non-stop from morning until night is not good for anyone,” says Ehrman.
Taking even just two or three minutes at a time to sit still, breathe normally, and pay attention to our breathing, or mentally repeating a positive word or phrase, makes a big difference, she advises. Try to work up to 15 or 20 minutes of doing this, she urges.
Our immune system “takes its cues from us, from our level of stress and calm,” she says. “Making space to be quiet, calm, and still enables the immune system to rebalance and protect us more effectively.”
Sure, in this time of coronavirus, we must continue to wash our hands often, wear a mask when we’re out and about, practice physical distancing from others, and avoid crowds. But “when our mind is in a state of peace and calm, our body is able to reenergize, heal, and repair itself faster,” she says.
TWO: Try meditation—and make it a habit. Ehrman recommends practicing gratitude on a regular basis and meditating about it.
“Work on reliving a meaningful experience for which you are grateful,” she says. “Focus on—and experience—gratitude for a person, a place, a thing, or an experience. Allow yourself to experience the energy of gratitude and other emotions connected with that experience.”
And for anyone who might think this is frivolous or a waste of energy—time to think again. “Gratitude is the highest vibrational energy,” she says. “It helps all of our body systems to function better. It gives us a healthy perspective on life and our lives, because there is more good happening than not.”
The longtime behavioral health expert also urges that we practice loving kindness toward ourselves and others. Actually saying the words, “May you be well; may you be happy; may you be peaceful; may you be loved”—this “offers goodness first to ourselves, then to a loved one, then to an acquaintance, then to all people and all beings on Earth,” says Ehrman. “It practices living from the best within ourselves and connecting with others, because we’re all in this together.”
THREE: Before going to sleep at night, jot down three good things that happened that day—and the emotions those things elicited. Ehrman says one such statement could be as simple as, “The sunshine streamed through the trees and it looked beautiful to me.”
That, in turn, could spark a feeling of happiness and calmness—something very much worth recalling.
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Such a practice, says Ehrman, “improves our sleep and our mood. And it gives us a healthy perspective of the good in our lives, much of which we take for granted.”
She also stresses eating well, being physically and regularly active, getting enough sleep, and making time for laughter. All of these things are vital, as is practicing gratitude.
Anyone experiencing depression or anxiety should reach out to a physician and/or therapist—proper treatment, including medication, is key and is within reach.
Adds Ehrman, “If you feel anxiety building, do the following: Breathe. Focus on breathing in and breathing out—taking a comfortably full breath in through your nose. Then, take a long, slow, soft exhale from your mouth. Feel the breath come and go from your body.”
She adds, “Think positive thoughts, and repeat them either mentally or aloud: ‘In this moment, I’m OK’ is a good one.”
Then, “Imagine a safe, restful place—one you know or one you imagine. Allow yourself to imagine being there, with all of your senses engaged.”
And finally, “Emotions come and go. Know that uncomfortable feelings will pass.”
This article was written by Maureen Mackey. She is a writer, editor, and digital content strategist.