Addressing mental health during times of isolation, fear, and uncertainty

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TIOGA COUNTY, P.A. (WETM) – During times of extreme stress our brain will begin to shut down higher order processing (attention, focus, concentration, etc.). We will hold stress in our body and in our brain. We may experience fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, difficulty coping, and so forth. Thus, it is extremely important to take care of yourself during this time by practicing some of the below guidelines to stay active in your mental health and overall well-being.

๐—ง๐—ฎ๐—ธ๐—ฒ ๐—ฎ ๐—ฏ๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต. ๐—”๐—ฐ๐˜๐˜‚๐—ฎ๐—น๐—น๐˜†, ๐—ง๐—ฎ๐—ธ๐—ฒ ๐Ÿฑ ๐—•๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐˜€
โ€œTake a deep breathโ€ is a common phrase many of us have heard when we have been stressed. Many of us do not breathe properly. Why is breathing so important to manage stress? Our bodies respond in a negative feedback manner. For example, when stress is detected our brain releases chemicals to activate the heart rate, respiration, and so forth to prepare for the stressor. This serves as a survival skill during times of threat but does not serve us during a time we need to relax and can feel counterproductive. Practicing effective breathing strategies will send signals to the brain to relax which will in turn, send signals to our body to engage in calming states (e.g., slower heart rate). The bottom line is that the way we breathe will affect our entire body. We need to have a calm body to have a calm mind. Practice some of these breathing strategies anytime you need to reduce stress:

๐˜‰๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ๐˜ญ๐˜บ ๐˜‰๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ: Sit or lie in a position that is comfortable to you. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Take a deep breath in through your nose. While breathing in, make sure your belly is pushing your hand out. Your chest should remain still and not move. Hold the breath for a few seconds and then slowly let the breath out through your mouth. Your belly should now go in and your chest should continue to remain still. Try this exercise 5 times or more if needed.

4-7-8 ๐˜‰๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ: Sit or lie in the Belly Breathing position (one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest). Take a deep breath in through your nose, counting to 4 while you breathe in. Hold your breath while silently counting to 7. Breathe out through your mouth while counting to 8. Remember when breathing in through your nose your belly should push outwards and when breathing out through your mouth your belly should move inwards. Your chest should always remain still. Repeat this exercise at least 5 times or more if needed.

๐——๐—ถ๐˜€๐—ฐ๐—ผ๐˜ƒ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ ๐—ฆ๐—ผ๐—บ๐—ฒ๐˜๐—ต๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด ๐—ก๐—ฒ๐˜„
Has social distancing freed up your schedule? If so, utilize this time to discover a new talent, learn more about a topic you are interested in, and become an expert in something new. There are many free classes and resources available to the nation right now; take advantage of it. For example, Yale is offering a free and popular class called, โ€œThe Science of Well-Being.โ€ Michael Woodside offers free videos on how to draw cartoon characters on YouTube. There are many free concerts and free musicals being offered during this time as well. For example, the Kennedy Center uploads new shows daily on YouTube, BroadwayHD uploads many musicals and plays, and many musical artists are doing live streams to bring entertainment to the home. There are several free fitness programs, classes, and activities you can utilize on the internet as well. Now may be the time you can read books that you never had the chance to, listen to an inspirational podcast (SoundCloud offers many free Podcasts), learn how to cook a new recipe (the app SuperCook is a free app that allows you to put in ingredients you have at home and will create a recipe for you), and get creative! Keep your brain and body moving. Remember, movement is magic!

๐—Ÿ๐—ฎ๐—ป๐—ด๐˜‚๐—ฎ๐—ด๐—ฒ ๐— ๐—ฎ๐˜๐˜๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜€
The way we talk about ourselves, others, and our situation is influential on our mood and outlook. I like to think of our thoughts and attitude as a way of us picking out our glasses for the day. Each thought or attitude you have is the type of glasses you are deciding to put on for the day. For example, if we talk about social distancing in terms of it being โ€œhorribleโ€ we are now wearing those lenses so that every encounter we experience is going through that โ€œhorribleโ€ lenses first and is now discolored. The goal is to change negative thinking patterns to helpful thinking patterns to better serve us. Below are some examples of reframing negative thoughts to helpful thoughts:

โ€œSocial distancingโ€ โžก๏ธ โ€œPhysical distancingโ€ (We can remain social during this time)

โ€œIโ€™m stuck at homeโ€ โžก๏ธ โ€œI am creating safety for myself and others by staying homeโ€

โ€œThere is nothing to doโ€ โžก๏ธ โ€œNow is the time I can learn many new thingsโ€

โ€œI am completely helplessโ€ โžก๏ธ โ€œI have the ability to make choices to keep myself and others safeโ€

โ€œIโ€™m so lonelyโ€ โžก๏ธ โ€œI can call, text, or facetime my friends and familyโ€

โ€œI will never feel betterโ€ โžก๏ธ โ€œThis is not a permeant state of being. Things do get betterโ€

โ€œThe world is a terrible placeโ€ โžก๏ธ โ€œWe are going through a difficult time, but steps are being taken to make a healthier world. There are many individuals out there doing incredible things right now to help my community.โ€

๐—ง๐—ต๐—ฒ ๐—ก๐—ฒ๐˜„ ๐—ก๐—ผ๐—ฟ๐—บ๐—ฎ๐—น
Things are not โ€œnormalโ€ or what we are accustomed to. We have all experienced a lot of change in a short amount of time. Try to create a โ€œnew normalโ€ during the changes. Even though we cannot replicate everything we were doing prior to the outbreak of coronavirus, there are some things we can continue to do. Wake up around a consistent time every single day. Do the same morning routine that you did previously. Get dressed and practice healthy hygiene skills. These small acts will make a huge change. Create a new schedule. Make time for self-care, schoolwork, exercise, meals, socialization, and so forth. Implementing physical movement is vital to everyday life and has many mental health benefits. Take study breaks to move your body, go for a walk, get outside, or do a quick exercise. Attempt to stick to a schedule or a routine as best as you can. During a crisis we often lose control in a situation. We do not respond well by not having control. Having a schedule to follow will help us feel like we have greater control of our situation. Keep in mind that we can still be social but in a different way than we are used to. Humans are social creatures. We are designed for social connection. Utilize technology to keep in contact with friends and loved ones during this time.

๐—ฅ๐—ฒ๐—ฐ๐—ผ๐—ด๐—ป๐—ถ๐˜‡๐—ฒ ๐˜๐—ต๐—ฒ ๐—•๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐˜‚๐˜๐˜†
We have been living in a world that is โ€œon the goโ€ constantly. As technology has advanced so has distractions. We are not truly aware creatures. Many of us can go for a drive and not recall most of the drive. Many of us do not get a full immersion in any experience because of the several distractions that are present. Our phone is the biggest distraction. With every noise our phone produces it disrupts our thought process. We should utilize our phone and technology in strategic ways. Many of us have been so busy in the world that we have not had the ability to slow down and really recognize our surroundings. Take the time to practice this. Recognize the beauty in all things. Go outside and really look at your environment. Take time to view all the colors and the noises around you. Find beauty in the sky, the trees, the calmness, the quietness, and so forth. Recognize how you truly feel in that moment. Many would describe this process as being mindful. Mindfulness is a great strategy of being fully present and aware of who we are and what we are doing while not placing any judgement on the external world. Mindfulness increases self-awareness and allows the brain to enhance in a way that reduces stress. To practice mindfulness, try to find a quiet place and comfortable position to sit in. Close your eyes. Be present and pay close attention to all 5 senses. If a thought comes to your mind, attempt to observe it and then let that thought go so that you can practice being aware in the present moment.

The Free Mindfulness Project is a great resource that offers free downloads and resources to get started on your journey to practicing mindfulness. http://www.freemindfulness.org/download

๐—ฅ๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ฐ๐—ต ๐—ข๐˜‚๐˜
It is normal and expected to be experiencing additional stress during this time. There are others that are there to help you. Reach out to your loved ones and friends for support. Reach out to a professional. You can utilize the counseling center through Mansfield University by calling 570-662-4436 or email pmengee@mansfield.edu. You can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 741741 to text a trained counselor. TWLOHA is another great resource to connect to mental health providers in your local area, which can be accessed atย twloha.com/find-help.

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