We’re living in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis. As a result, most of us have been focused on the unprecedented threat we currently face to our physical health: the risk of infection, sickness and even death.
But there’s a second, more long-term, risk we all face, a risk that may be harder to see but no less threatening to our well-being. It’s the threat to our mental health: the possibility that the mental and emotional scars from this global crisis might stay with us for months, years, or even decades.
Many people have already begun to experience this second threat. For some, it might show up as anxiety, depression, worry, or using food, alcohol, or drugs to take the edge off the horrifying news we heat each day. For others, the mental and emotional residue of this crisis has yet to emerge. And yet, for all of us, without preventative action, we run the risk of significantly undermining our ability to stay resilient in the face of life’s challenges both now and for years to come.
How can you build greater mental and emotional resilience in the midst of this crisis? Here are five techniques, which can serve as reminders of the importance of building mental and emotional fitness.
1. Reframe the value of self-care.
The first step is to shift the way we think about care for the self. In a work culture that prioritizes productivity and outcomes, we’ve often become accustomed to devaluing self-care as a luxury, as merely nice to have. In this unique moment, however, care for the self isn’t just what you do to feel amazing or look great. It’s a must have, an essential preventative measure to help with your long-term psychological health.
2. Build time for self-care into each day.
Our old routines have been shattered by office closures, school closures, and a current reality where we rarely, if ever, leave our home. That’s why it’s so important to create a new routine, a new set of rituals to structure the flow of each day and leave time for self-care practices like exercise, meditation, healthy eating, and connecting with friends and family. In fact, we recommend putting these practices into your calendar so that they don’t get pushed aside by competing priorities.
3. Get your sleep.
We realize this sounds obvious. But sleep plays a central role in cultivating resilience. Research shows that sleep is the time when the brain processes difficult emotions and clears away harmful toxins. Without it, we intensify all the anxiety, fear, and irritation we may be experiencing. With it, we give ourselves a better chance of responding skillfully to these challenging times. Seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night is recommended to recharge.
4. Manage your digital consumption.
Many of us used to worry about “screen time.” Now, however, virtually all of our time consists of “screen time.” So, it’s even more important now to be intentional about our consumption of digital information. When you set up a meet-up hour over Zoom, it’s worth asking: is this meaningful? Will this create deeper connection? When you turn on the TV or grab your phone to look at the news, it’s worth asking: what’s driving me to do this? How much news do I need to consume to be informed without becoming traumatized?
5. Cultivate a spirit of kindness.
If there’s a silver lining to this time crisis, it might be this: all the extraordinary acts of kindness that happen when times are tough. The challenge, however, in moments like this, when we’re stressed, overwhelmed, or anxious, is to remember to be kind. To do this, it can be helpful to turn kindness into a daily habit. See what happens when you perform one random act of kindness, for your family, for your neighbor, or for city, each day. The science on this is clear. Acts of kindness not only benefit the world, but they also bring about what neuroscientists call “the helper’s high.”
These simple steps are designed both to help you become more resilient now and to build habits of resilience for the future. Over the long-term, the challenges we face will likely have less to do with protecting our physical health, and more to do with processing and managing the emotional residue of having lived through a traumatic global crisis.
Investing now in these preventative practices is the key to meeting the next crisis with a mindset of resilience.