Mike Veny is a mental health speaker. Learn more about his programs here.
I struggle with severe anxiety. It's sometimes paralyzing. It can even strike during the times in life when everything seems to be going smoothly. So I knew this was something that could be a problem for me when the Covid-19 pandemic started.
There are many things that I've learned throughout my years of living with mental health challenges. And there are many strategies that I share with others through my work as a mental health speaker. I realized early on that in order to get through this, I needed to have a way to manage my mental health during this time, and that you might need some support as well.
This situation with the virus is completely out of my control. Before this, I thought I had reached a point of being in control of most things in my life. This experience is teaching me there are some things I can't do anything about.
Part of being calm is accepting that I can't control what I hear in the media, what I think about the media, what I fear about my loved ones and all that comes along with this situation. I have the same fears and concerns as you. But while there are a lot of things I can't control, there is one thing that I can.
Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl once said, “Everything in life can be taken away from you, except for your freedom to choose how you respond.”
And I'm choosing to respond to the current pandemic by being calm.
That doesn't mean I've felt calm all the time. But it does mean I always try to come back to calm. It's the mantra I'm following for surviving this time.
The reason I've felt so compelled to do this is not just for myself but for the other people in my life. We can either give in to our panic and fear or we can choose to remain calm in the face of it. There are plenty of people who are struggling right now, and we can choose to be the steady and secure person they need.
The way we respond has an impact on the others around us. This is why media fear-mongering during times like this becomes such a problem. When we allow ourselves to buy into the fear that the media is spreading, we start making poor decisions.
We do things like buying up all the toilet paper in the store without thinking twice about all the other people in our communities.
I'd like you to think about how you've been responding. How do you feel? How are you projecting yourself onto others? Even if they're far away.
Now is the time to determine how you're going to feel, act, and be to get yourself and your loved ones through this difficult time.
We all have a choice, and I'm encouraging you to choose to be calm for you and your loved ones.
Part of staying calm is knowing how to take care of yourself and practice good self-care.
Staying in the house means that the amount of moving you're doing is most likely going to be drastically reduced. When you don't have to even walk to the car, your desk, or head out to lunch with coworkers, you're going to take a lot fewer steps.
And while exercise and movement are good for your physical health (it even helps boost your immune system), it's also good for your mental health.
One study found that you can reduce your chance of depression by up to 26 percent by increasing your physical activity. The study gives the example of switching out 15 minutes of sitting for 15 minutes of running.
Many gyms around the country are closed down right now, but that's no excuse to not get some movement in each day.
You can do push-ups, yoga, or even just walk around your house tracking your steps. There are also a lot of fitness trainers who are offering free workout videos that you can do at home with no equipment to help us get through this time. A quick Google search or YouTube search for "free workout videos" will turn up plenty of results for you to choose from.
When you know you're going to be staying in the house and not really seeing anyone, it's easy to stop putting the same effort into getting ready for the day. It might be that you keep your pajamas on, work from the bed, or wait until late in the day to shower.
I encourage you to keep getting ready for the day. Shower in the morning if that was your regular routine. Get dressed. Brush your teeth.
Do the things that you would do if you were heading to the office for the day.
An article on Exploring Your Mind states, "There is a significant correlation between the neglect of one’s physical appearance and the severity of some psychopathological disorders."
The way we feel about our appearance impacts our mood. We see when people are struggling with depression, as they begin to struggle, they tend not to put the same effort into their appearance.
It's easy to not care as much about other areas of your life when you feel sloppy in your appearance. It's not that there's a right or wrong way to look or dress. The only thing that matters is that you're doing what's right for you to keep your mood up.
If you start to notice that you're feeling unmotivated and unproductive, it might be time to change out of the yoga pants and yesterday's t-shirt.
Being calm does not mean that you stuff your feelings down and don't address them. That's one of the worst things you can do.
Instead, I want to encourage you to find a way to work through the many different feelings that you may experience during this time. One option you can consider is journaling.
Take a few minutes at the start of the day, end of the day, or whenever you feel your emotions rising, and grab paper and pen. Sometimes the simple act of putting your feelings into words can help make them feel more manageable.
Journaling can also help you get to the root cause of what's bothering you. Sometimes it's easier when you start writing to let your mind go, which can help lead you to dive into your thoughts more than you might normally let yourself.
If you're not headed out to work anymore, it's easy to let your sleep schedule slide. Maybe you stay up way too late bingeing on Netflix or scrolling through social media. Since you don't have to commute in the morning, you don't need to get up as early.
This is a slippery slope. If you're working from home and you wake up late, you end up working in your pj's from your bed. This makes it easy to forget about your meals if you don't have children who are also home and asking to be fed.
Poor sleep can be related to poor health—physical and mental. And now more than ever, we're reminded that we need to focus on staying healthy. Your body needs that rest.
If you're struggling with falling asleep and staying asleep due to anxiety over coronavirus, I encourage you to try meditation and deep breathing. You can also try a Mosaic Weighted Blanket.
If you're living in an area where you can still get outside and go for a walk, do it. Fresh air and sunshine are great for your mental and physical health. In fact, Harvard Medical School published an article sharing the benefits including:
Now, there are some of you who might be reading this who aren't able to get out of your house right now. If that's you, I encourage you to spend some time sitting near a window.
Sit in the sunlight when you can. Open the curtains and allow yourself to feel the warmth of the sun. You can even open the windows to let the fresh air in.
While I want to encourage you to remain calm during this time, I don't want you to try to do this to the extent of hurting your mental health in the end. If you're struggling with anxiety, address it. Don't hide it. That's not the same as remaining calm.
Many mental health professionals have moved their appointments from the office to phone or video sessions. There are still hotlines that you can call. There are people for you to reach out to if you don't have family or friends that you can talk to, or if you need to talk to someone with more experience than they have.
If you have a close group including family or friends, make sure you're talking with them. You might not be able to get together in person right now, but that doesn't have to stop you from interacting with them.
And I know that we all like to use our phones for texting, but I encourage you to call and talk to others. Or even better, video call them. This allows you to talk face-to-face while practicing social distancing. And if you have children, allow them to video chat with friends. Remember this is impacting them as well, and they may not know how to express their concerns and needs.
Many of you have recently had a lot of time open up. Whether it's not having a work commute any longer or not having anywhere to go once you're out of work, you have some free time.
What if instead of spending it watching television, scrolling through social media, or worrying, you spent it learning a new skill?
There are a lot of small businesses that are trying to help people out right now. They are offering free webinars and courses in so many different topics. This is a great time to pick up a new hobby, learn a new skill for work or educate yourself on a topic that you've always been curious about.
Put this time to work for you. While it's likely that your local library is shut down right now, they have ebooks that are still available to you. Start reading and see what you can learn.
I'm also going to have a few free online courses coming out shortly. One is to help those who want to become paid speakers for events. The other is to help address anxiety. If you want to hear more information about them as they become available, sign up for my email list to stay up to date.
Be kind. Be kind to yourself. And be kind to others that you interact with.
Think twice about what you post on social media or what you say. There are people struggling with anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges on top of the current situation causing additional panic in the world.
There are those who have already lost loved ones and others who will before this whole thing settles down. And there are many who are continuing to deal with other difficult life situations that were happening when the pandemic began.
Look for ways to support one another.
How can you help someone else from the position you're in right now? Are you able to pick up groceries for an elderly person who needs to avoid crowds? Can you watch someone's child that had school canceled so they can go to work?
Or maybe it's just providing an encouraging word over the phone. Remember, this is an unprecedented situation that is a first for all of us.
It's okay and normal to feel scared. It's normal to feel anxious. But one way to overcome that fear and anxiety is to shift your focus. Look for ways to make a positive change during this time.
You can't control what's happening around you, but you can control how you respond.
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