Mental health used to mean experiencing more positive emotions than negative ones. It used to mean being able to cope with your negative emotions in a timely fashion. It meant if you feel sad- you better not feel that way for too long. But what does mental health mean for us today, during the uncertainty of COVID?
We feel a variety of negative emotions right now. We feel fear, confusion, and anxiety about what tomorrow will bring us. How can we feel anything else during a pandemic? How can we feel stable when the world around us is anything but.
We need a new definition of mental health. One that matches our faltering world. We can’t feel great when the world as we know it is crumbling underneath our feet. We may not feel ok, and that’s fine for now.
The “Old” Mental Health
Being mentally healthy is the absence of mental illness. Mental health encompasses three components: emotional well-being, psychological well-being, and social well-being. Basically, if we are mentally healthy we should be able to realize our full potential. We should be on top of our game in terms of productivity, being physically active, and social.
This paints a picture of a happy and fit man or woman. She gets up at the crack of dawn, goes for a morning run, makes a healthy breakfast, and gets straight to work. She goes through her whole day with a constant smile. She makes dinner for the kids and checks up on her friends throughout the day. She reads a book at night and goes to bed early.
She takes over the world one day at a time.
Does your life look like this? No? Me either. I worry about my health, my family’s health, and what will happen to the world when this is all over.
Does that mean we’re not mentally healthy? I don’t think so.
What is Mental Health in 2020?
With all the craziness happening in 2020 we’re bound to feel anxiety, burden, and even defeat. It seems that uncertainty has become our new normal. If you’re still in quarantine, you may use this time to sleep in. Or not get dressed in your best outfit every day. Maybe you choose this time to spend your days in your PJs watching TV and eating unhealthy snacks.
Maybe you’re worried about what will happen to your job. Will it still be there waiting for you when you come back? Maybe you’re so overwhelmed with homeschooling your kids you don’t have the time or energy to reach out to your friends. Or let alone wash your hair.
You’re supposed to be working from home, but maybe you have no energy from worrying all day. How are you going to pay your bills? How will you make sure you have food on the table with unemployment taking so long? How will you teach your kids when you’ve been out of school for years?
All these questions swirling around in our heads certainly do not create the image of perfect mental health. And being healthy means being able to cope with negative thoughts and feelings. But how can we? When everything feels out of control.
What Does That Mean For Us?
It means we’re still ok. It’s normal to feel lost in a confusing time. We have never experienced anything like this in our lifetime.
It also means we need to focus on self-care. We need to stop being hard on ourselves. And if that means putting on a hydrating face mask and lying in a warm bath all Sunday, by all means- enjoy!
For me, I needed to come up with a self-care routine to regain control of my life. I’ve utilized my free time during quarantine to enjoy the little things. I wake up every morning and before my first cup of coffee, I do 10 minutes of yoga. It helps me feel centered and relaxed. I meditate during the day. I allow myself this time where I don’t need to worry about anything. I don’t need to do anything. I don’t need to think about anything. I just need to breathe. The fact that I’m breathing is enough to be ok at that moment.
Your self-care routine might look different. It may mean cuddling up in bed all day with your favorite book. Or baking a cake. Maybe playing with your dog will make you feel recharged. Whatever it is, do it. Don’t feel guilty about taking time out for yourself. You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of your loved ones.
Why We Need To Change That Definition
There is no playbook for life in 2020. It’s ok to feel bad sometimes. It’s alright to feel lost right now. When everything seemed fine yesterday and today you don’t know if the world will ever be normal again. We have to question our normal. Was the state of our world even “normal”, to begin with.
You might seem stuck in these negative feelings for longer than what feels “healthy”. We need to change the definition of mental health. We need to give ourselves time and space to feel our feelings. Sweeping them under the rug will only make it worse when it does come out.
Most importantly, don’t keep it bottled up. Tell someone how you’re feeling. They might be feeling the same way. If they don’t, they can listen.
If you’re an introvert like me, write about it. Write down your biggest fears on a piece of paper and then burn it.
Write down the worst possible thing that can happen and write the percentage of how likely that is to happen. This may be I lose my job, I go broke, I become homeless and can’t take care of my family. Then write down the best possible outcome. This may be I use this time to rest and work on my passion and create a business out of it and make a million dollars. Next to that, write down the percentage likeliness that it will happen. Finally, write down the most realistic thing that will happen. You may find this has the highest percentage of actually happening.
A Better One?
We need a new definition of mental health in 2020. A realistic definition for uncertain times. Whatever it is you’re feeling, it’s ok. It’s also ok to seek help if you can’t, don’t want to, or are tired of doing it alone.
If you need help check out Mental Health America. They have some great resources for dealing with mental health during COVID. You can also search for mental health therapist in your area and find the best therapist for you.