Self-Care in a Pandemic

April 21, 2020

By Cody Beaton, LSCSW, LCAC

A common contributor to anxiety (and often anxiety's best friend, depression) is a fear of the unknown. Without a doubt, we are currently living in uncharted, uncertain times due to COVID-19. How does that affect an individual’s mental health? Our communities? Our society? Even our country and the whole world? This, too, is somewhat of an unknown. We haven't experienced anything like this since the Spanish Flu of 1918, which infected nearly a third of the world's population. Just know that we all feel it, this odd sense of surreality. Even mental health professionals like myself.

In working with patients via televideo during this time, I have found that we are all handling it differently. For some, there is actually a bit of comfort that comes from the situation, resulting in a decrease in anxiety! How, you ask? Social anxiety is quite common and with limited opportunities for social interaction, in accordance with social distancing, many triggers are reduced or eliminated. Additionally, when the whole world is in an anxiety-inducing situation, those who experience anxiety regularly may be able to experience a heightened sense of normalcy. It may be somewhat satisfying that others are now experiencing something that the anxiety-ridden patient copes with on a daily basis. Anxiety, depression, substance use, etc., often create a life that is defined by a constant state of chaos, which becomes comfortable. This is how a pandemic like this could be perceived as oddly-comforting for some.

On the other hand, this is certainly a vulnerable time for a majority of those who are struggling with mental health or substance use issues. Increased isolation, reduced opportunities for support and social interaction and potential for job loss could be the perfect ingredients in a recipe for disaster, the perfect storm for a relapse into drinking, using, depression, and so on. We want you to know that as mental health professionals, we hear you and we feel it, too. It's not just you. It never has been. This is temporary, as most things are, and we will get through it. We may even be better for it once we reach the other side. People are wired to connect and we see this continuing during the pandemic, from kind notes left on doors for delivery drivers, to socially-distant neighborhood dance parties from respective driveways, to outdoor concerts from apartment balconies in Italy. Similar to 9/11, we somehow pull together in the toughest of times. This, too, shall pass.

But until then, self-care is paramount. It's always important, but currently, we have a unique opportunity to focus on self, family, faith, and whatever we've been neglecting. As humans, we have a tendency to put ourselves last, to value our own opinions less than those of others. There is a common misconception that taking care of oneself may be viewed as selfish. It's not. Remember the old saying, “Put your oxygen mask on first,” which was popularized by airline companies? Ironically, the idea of putting on your mask applies now more than ever. You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else. If you aren't well, or alive for that matter, you simply cannot help the next person... and that is not selfish in any way. If we were to compare our current situation to the aforementioned airline saying, self-care is the oxygen within our mask. If we don't take the time to practice self-care (or get ourselves some air), we do not live, or at least we do not live well. Perhaps, we just survive.

Wouldn't it be better if we could not only survive, but thrive, even in difficult times?

Stay well amidst the chaos of COVID-19. Please continue to take care of yourself and know that even if we aren't able to go out and seek help in person like we used to, the help is still there. We need each other now more than ever. We are fortunate that technology allows us to stay connected through this pandemic and I hope that you all take advantage of this time to improve yourselves and the relationships that you hold dear.

For more information about anxiety, read this blog by Matt Schrader, LCP.

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