How to Hack Your Mental Wellness in the COVID-19 Pandemic
Mike Veny is a mental health speaker. Learn more about his programs here.
Once I began to grasp the reality of what was happening beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, I struggled with the intense emotions that came up for me:
- I felt angry
- I felt sad
- I felt scared
I didn't know what was going to happen with my health and the health of the people in my life. I was stuck in uncertainty. At the same time, there was one thing that I was certain of:
I had the tools to get through this difficult time mentally and emotionally.
I was certain of this because I have been living with mental health challenges for my entire life. Managing depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a daily struggle for me. These challenges have often made it impossible for me to function and live a full life.
These challenges began in my childhood and were discovered through my behavior problems. My behavior problems led to me getting suspended from school on a regular basis and I was expelled from three schools. My parents admitted me to mental hospitals three times (for extended stays) and in between, I was a regular in the emergency room of my local hospital because I was constantly in crisis.
In an effort to ease my pain, I self-harmed and attempted to die by suicide at age ten.
Nowadays, I’m doing much better, but I still struggle with mental health challenges. At the same time, I'm living a full life and work as a mental health speaker, author and writer.
Through writing for my blog and HealthCentral, I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to interview a variety of mental health professionals and other people with lived experience. This work has given me a massive toolbox of strategies and hacks to help get me through uncertain times.
What it means to live in a time of uncertainty
Let’s face it - life is uncertain. When we feel that we are living in a time of uncertainty, we are referring to the fact that our routines, work and regular activities are completely turned upside down due to an event or series of events.
Living in a time of uncertainty brings up all sorts of emotions. Fear is the emotion that comes up most frequently and is often at the root of other emotions that may arise.
Feelings of fear arise out of not knowing what’s going to happen next, a loss of control and regular surprises that aren’t the good type of surprises that we enjoy in life.
Left unchecked, fear and the other emotions that come up can really take a toll on your mind, body, and spirit.
When you first realize that you are living in a time of uncertainty, one of the first things you begin thinking about is your survival. This includes your home, safety, finances, etc. In my experience, your top priority needs to be getting some quick relief around any stress you might be experiencing around your survival.
A quick and easy tool for stress relief
One of my favorite tools for stress relief is called a Brain Dump, and it’s really simple to do:
- Find a piece of paper or a pad
- Find a pen or pencil
- Write down everything that’s on your mind
That's it. Easy. Done.
This is a quick way to bring stress relief to your mind. As much as I want to tell you that it takes away your stress completely, it doesn’t. It does, however, make your stress more manageable.
How can this possibly work for you?
In the book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, author David Allen explains that we all live our lives with open loops on our mind. These open loops are things that we need to get done and linger in the back of our mind. For example:
- Calls you need to make
- Bills you need to pay
- Appointment you need to make
- Food you need to put on your grocery list
- Something you promised you boss by a certain date
You have open loops like this lingering on your mind right now. When you don’t have a place to put them, you can’t be fully present with people or take care of the more important things that you want to take care of.
The first step to finding peace in times of uncertainty is to take things that are on your mind and get them off your mind ASAP.
I encourage you to do it after you finish this lesson. In fact, I encourage you to start doing it every day and several times a day if you need to.
WARNING: This can feel a bit overwhelming at first, but I promise you that over time, it will become one of your favorite activities to do.
Why it's important for you to find peace
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there's a chance that I could contract the COVID-19 coronavirus. If I do, the more inner peace I have, the better I will be able to increase my chances of healing from it and healing faster. This is just one example of how inner peace can directly affect other outcomes in times of uncertainty.
Your inner peace also directly affects those around you. The people in your life will notice it. If they notice it, they can model it.
Ultimately, your inner peace just might be the one thing that gets you through this time of uncertainty.
What to do when anxiety takes over
When my anxiety is high, it manifests in different ways. At its worst, it can be straight up paralyzing. My breathing becomes rapid, my body becomes tense and my thoughts spiral out of control.
In the previous lesson, you learned about a Brain Dump and how it quickly takes what’s on your mind and gets it off your mind. Despite how effective it is, there are still things that can linger on your mind and you might not even know that they are there. Left unchecked, these things can manifest in negative behavior and difficult emotions, particularly anxiety.
Talking to a therapist
One of the best ways to manage that is by having a regular relationship with a therapist that offers mental health services. Unlike many other things in life, therapy doesn’t work by you attending one session, getting a diagnosis and a prescription.
Therapy is a two-way relationship and it’s a process.
You get to talk about things that you can't really talk about with friends, family, and significant others. You get to get really deep. And by doing that, you'll start to gain an awareness about things that are giving you anxiety that you might not have even realized.
If you’re not going to therapy, I encourage you to start going. If you are going to therapy, I encourage you to do your best to make the most of it.
As I said before, it's a two-way relationship. Sometimes when I've gone to my therapist, I would go to our sessions with an expectation that she was going to fix me. It wasn't until I started to realize that I needed to bring something to the table in order to fix me that things got better.
Therapy during social distancing and working remotely
In times of social distancing and remote working, there are options for therapy via phone, on your computer or on your mobile device. Here are some options:
- Talkspace: Get therapy on your mobile device with the opportunity to communicate with your therapist almost 24/7 via text, phone calls, or video calls.
- Good Therapy: Find the right therapist for you at the right price fast! Also, learn how to manage your relationship with your therapist so you can get the most out of it.
- Online Therapy: An innovative online therapy service that provides affordable, confidential, and convenient therapy services through your computer or mobile device.
Finding a good therapist and attending therapy regularly is a quick way to help you relieve your anxiety.
How to create your plan to find peace
It’s time to take action! In my experience, I’ve learned that the most effective way to create a plan is to write it down. I highly encourage you to write yours down.
- Write down the following categories:
- For each category, write down as many activities and tools that you can think of to support you when you are struggling.
- Review what you’ve written and circle the three activities that you believe would serve you best in each category.
How to support people in your life who are struggling
Here’s an excerpt from my book, Transforming Stigma: How to Become a Mental Wellness Superhero:
As a professional speaker, my career relies on me talking. But when I’m done talking and anytime I’m not on stage, my job is to listen, and it’s a more important job than reciting a speech and even telling my life story.
Just as there can’t be a connection without a conversation, no meaningful conversation can take place without listening. Without listening, a potentially meaningful connection turns into, at best, a one-sided relationship like mine with the characters on Sesame Street. To help someone, we have to know them, and to know them, we need to listen to them.
To listen, ask good questions and remember, after you’ve asked each question, to shut up. Say, “Help me understand”...and shut up. “How can I support you?”...and shut up. Listen to what they say, how they act, and ask questions. Stay away from making assumptions.
The hardest part about listening is holding back your urge to immediately respond, share, and help. Your goal isn’t to solve their problems or explain how everything is going to be okay—it’s to listen. Listen with the intent to understand.
Another excerpt from my book, Transforming Stigma: How to Become a Mental Wellness Superhero:
The Law of the Tribe
We are tribal people by nature and everyone wants to be part of groups—even those people who say they hate people.
We learn about socializing in groups from a very early age. You can observe this in kindergarten classrooms throughout the United States.
The way people develop relationships is by finding out what they have in common with one another. For example, a group of three kindergarten students are socializing.
- Student 1 & Student 2 have the same pair of sneakers
- Student 3 has a different pair of sneakers
- Students 1 & 2 now label Student 3 as “weird”
Children figure out who the weird one is because it’s a way of knowing who isn’t in the group. If you aren’t weird, you’re in. If you are weird, you aren’t.
We continue to practice this law throughout our lives. As adults, nobody wants to be the weird one. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons for the stigma surrounding mental health.
Since the beginning of time, people who experienced mental health challenges were labeled as weird, demonic, or below other people.
Although the excerpt above is describing how someone with mental health challenges might feel disconnected, it can apply to all aspects of life. Let me get straight to the point:
WE ALL NEED HUMAN CONNECTION
In times of social distancing, social isolation, and quarantines, being intentional about connecting with others is CRITICAL.
The secret to making human connection when using video
- Visualize the person you are talking with (even if you can see them on video).
- Look into the camera while imagining looking into their eyes and seeing their humanity.
- Embrace the emotions that you feel.
- This is difficult for many people to do.
- This is intense.
- This will make you vulnerable.
Now I’d love to hear from you. In the comments below, let me know your answer to this question:
What's your next action step to finding peace in this time of uncertainty?
Remember, share as much detail as possible in your reply. Many people are taking this course to transform their lives. Your comment may help someone else open up to a brand new perspective.
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