The days are getting shorter, the weather is getting colder and more and more places find themselves stuck in lockdown 2.0. I understand that all of these things mean a higher chance of people dealing with mental health issues. This is why I have reached out to some of my super talented and experience driven friends to share their own personal experiences and tips on how to better deal with mental health issues. We understand that not everyone is the same, so please use this information as a helpful resource, not as a guide.
This week I talked to Dr. Rachel Singer, she’s a psychologist and Director of Postdoctoral Training at the Center for Anxiety and Behavioral Change in Rockville MD.
Within this Q&A she shares some incredibly useful information on how we can make this lockdown easier on ourselves, tips for anyone dealing with mental health issues and more.
1. What are things that can people do at home to help them get through lockdown?
This lockdown is placing an incredible emotional, psychological, and social toll on our society. I would recommend starting with recognizing that it is normal to be distressed about major life changes. Every aspect of our lives (work, family, social) has likely changed in the past 8 months. It helps to set goals that are SMART: specific, measurable, realistic, attainable, and timebound. Remember, we are not working from home, we are (attempting to) work from home (during a GLOBAL PANDEMIC). Be kind to yourself- shift your expectations. Also, set categorical goals: something active, something social, something productive, and something fun each day. Make a list for each category and pick one task from each category each day. It helps to set goals the night before, and sometimes to tell someone else what your goals are to increase accountability.
2. What is your top 5 tips for anyone dealing with mental health issues?
- Identify the problem: what is not working out so well, and what are some of the strategies you have already tried? This can help you create a plan for specific action steps
- Reach out: You are not alone- mental health concerns are incredibly common! You likely know someone in your family or friend group who is going through something similar. It can feel incredibly isolating to be suffering from mental health concerns, but social support is often an incredibly helpful part of treatment
- Practice reframing: look for evidence that supports your anxious thought, and evidence that contradicts it. Anxiety often tells us that a low-frequency event is not only possible, it’s inevitable.
- Change behavior: When we’re depressed, our brains tell us to go into hibernation mode. But ironically, what actually helps us is behavioral activation: get out, get moving. Whene we’re anxious, we tend to avoid. In order to actually reduce anxiety, we need to face our stressors in small steps (called exposures)
- Seek additional help: The good news is you are not alone. Social supports can be a really powerful buffer against stressors, but your friends are not your therapist. Therapists are a great source of support- we are not afraid of your feelings, and eager to help!
3. What are some of the most common signs that someone is dealing with mental illness?
Anxiety and depression are the two most common mental health diagnoses, each typically impacting ~25% of the population. However, 100% of individuals feel anxious or depressed from time to time. Typical symptoms of anxiety include: negative self-talk, seeing reassurance, physical symptoms when worried (rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, change in body temperature, GI distress), and excessive worries that are disproportionate for the level of the problem. Signs of depression include lack of energy/motivation, lack of interest in pleasurable activities, low mood, tearfulness, sleep impairments, change in appetite or mood. For each of these, they have to cause enough distress (how problematic are the symptoms) and impairment (how much do they prevent you from doing what you want or need to be able to do. If you have any concerns about safety (yours or someone else’s), get help immediately. Call a crisis line, a hotline, or 911.
4. (How) Should you reach out for help?
The wonderful news is that anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns are treatable with effective, evidence-based interventions. One step is to start by talking to your primary care doctor, who can provide appropriate referrals. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America also has a great list of providers who use effective interventions. For both anxiety and depression, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (combined with medication management) is the most effective form of treatment. Make sure when you are looking for a therapist that they check a few key boxes: 1) you have to feel comfortable talking to them 2) they have to have expertise treating the concerns that you want to talk about 3) they should be using evidence-based interventions. If your symptoms are not getting better, that’s a good sign that it’s time to talk to your therapist about alternative interventions.
Check out this YouTube channel if you want to see loads more tips on how to ensure proper self-care.
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