Mental Health Awareness Month: Caring for our Bodies and Minds

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep the globe, many of us are experiencing serious worry over our physical health and safety, as well as that of our loved ones. Healthcare workers, grocery store employees, delivery drivers, and others whose jobs involve heightened exposure to the novel coronavirus are at particularly high risk. Especially for these people– and others, like elderly folks or those with underlying physical conditions– it can be hard to focus on any kind of self-care besides hand-washing, wearing adequate personal protective equipment, and constant self-monitoring for the symptoms we have all learned to fear.

Getting through the days and weeks with our work done and our physical health intact can leave us all with little time or energy for other concerns. But this Mental Health Awareness month, we want to provide a gentle reminder that caring for our hearts and minds is important, too– perhaps even more important than before, as we shift and struggle under the weight of these circumstances.

Since the pandemic began, many of us have experienced trauma and stress that we have not yet encountered in our lifetimes. People who have never been diagnosed with mental health conditions might confront unsettling new issues, like insomnia, intense anxiety, or substance dependence. Those who are intimately familiar with trauma could re-encounter the numbness, hypervigilance, or depression they may have experienced during past periods of difficulty. And if you’ve lived with a mental health condition since before the pandemic, you might find symptom management to be more challenging now than ever.

With this in mind, we encourage everyone to look out for each other– not just with respect to physical health, but to mental health as well. Communities around the world have shown admirable levels of accountability and care by socially distancing, checking up on vulnerable neighbors, practicing mutual aid, and sewing masks for people in need. It’s just as important that we show this level of compassion to those who are mentally and emotionally impacted by the stress of living through a pandemic– and, of course, to ourselves.

We certainly cannot suspend all of our feelings and responsibilities. It is perfectly understandable to be worried and scared– these emotions can even be adaptive to the extent that they encourage us to take all the precautions that we can. And though many of us would like to take more time and space to attend to our mental and physical health, work and family obligations can make it tough. That being said, taking even the smallest steps to ensure mental well-being can make a world of difference.

So, during Mental Health Awareness month and beyond, do not hesitate to offer support and express concern to others who are struggling. And if anxiety, sleeplessness, or other issues have made your own life overwhelming, it is okay– and, in fact, important– to ask for help. If you are able, schedule a telehealth appointment with your primary care provider or a therapist. If that’s not possible, consider checking in with a mentor, a family member, a friend, or even an app like Woebot. And emergency services– like the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) or 911 in the US, 999 in the UK, and 112 in the EU– are ALWAYS available. Your mental health is as important now as it was before the pandemic. If you feel you are in danger, it is always best to let someone know.

And even if you’ve been holding steady– take a moment to feel what you’re feeling, to open up to someone you trust, or to breathe deeply for a minute or two. If we approach our emotional challenges with the same care and attention we’d apply to physical signs of illness, we’ll see this through with sound bodies and sound minds.