Managing Your Mental Health During Challenging Times 

At some point we all experience difficult times and our stress and anxiety levels peak.

Although we might react differently to crises, how we manage our stress and anxiety levels during difficult times is important.

As we continue to bring awareness on mental health this month, it is important to check in with yourself regularly, this means recognising when you are experiencing grief and learning how to cope with these feelings.

Carien de Klerk from Good Hope Psychological Service has put together a few tips to help and support you.

The Five Stages of Grieving

To be able to deal with our grief it helps to understand the different stages we go through. There is:

Denial – This virus won’t affect us.

Anger – You’re making me stay home.

Bargaining – Okay, if I stay home everything will be better, right?

Sadness – I don’t know when this will get better.

Acceptance – This is happening and I have to figure out how to proceed.

David Kessler states in this interview with Harvard Business Review how important it is to remember that the stages are not linear and do not always happen in that order. If you immediately start bargaining, it’s okay, or if you initially feel sad, that’s also normal.

Own Your Experience and Have Compassion

We all experience change, and the grief that accompanies it, in our own unique way. It is personal. Be careful to not make assumptions about what someone else is experiencing during this time of uncertainty. This is going to be an emotional rollercoaster ride for all of us.

Sometimes we will feel like we have momentum and are going strong, sometimes we will be happy with a small win and other times we might really be struggling.  We are all fearfully and wonderfully made by our Creator. Now is a time to have compassion with each other. Everyone will have different levels of fear and grief and it manifests in different ways.

1. Manage your expectations

James Clear says “anticipate, but don’t expect”. Anticipation means you are excited for what the future holds, but you don’t try to control it. Expectation mean you try to predict the future and restrict your happiness to one outcome.

Much of our suffering comes as a result of unmet expectations. We suffer because we cannot predict the future, yet we have all sorts of expectations of ourselves and others. Be kind to yourself and hold your expectations lightly.

2. Accept things you cannot control

During times of uncertainty we want agency and we want to control. But now is a time to think about how you can let go of what you can’t control. What your neighbor is doing is out of your control. Only focus on what is within your own control.

3. Feel all your emotions

Fighting your feelings doesn’t help. Allow yourself to feel your sadness and fear and anger, whether or not someone else is feeling something or not.

If we allow the feelings to happen, we are not victims to it. Give yourself permission to experience the emotion without judgement. Let yourself feel the grief and keep going.

4. Live in the present

Take a few deep restorative breaths. Name five things in the room. Breathe. In this moment, you’re okay.

Use your senses and think about what they feel. The desk is hard. The blanket is soft. I can feel the breath coming into my nose. Be conscious of your surroundings and be present.

5. Think about what you think

When we feel anxious our minds become future-oriented. We typicaly see the worst-case scenarios play out and if we are not careful, our anxious thoughts can snowball, making us feel even worse.

The goal is not to ignore the images and thoughts or to try to make them go away. Rather, be aware of the thoughts and acknowledge them.

We want to find balance in the things that we are thinking. When we find ourselves dwelling on the negative, balance it with a happy memory, or something pleasant we can do in the present.

We can also look for new opportunities in times of crisis, like Mariëtte Jacobs pointed out so beautifully in her article Seeing Opportunity During Challenging Times.

6. Be curious about those around you

Remember that your family, colleagues, friends and neighbours’ personalities and temperaments are all different.

Extroverts would probably like to talk about what they are experiencing right now and do something, while introverts might prefer to have time to process what they are going through. Some personalities want to know the details and see all the data, while others are more interested in how it all fits into the bigger picture.

Stephen Covey said: First try to understand, then to be understood. Again, now is a time to build that compassion muscle. We are going to need it in the months to come.

In my work as a therapist I have been astonished time and time again by the human spirit’s ability to find meaning in times of adversity. I believe we will continue to find meaning now and when this is over.

Article written by Carien de Klerk, Registered Psychologist and Director of Good Hope Psychological Service (GHPS).

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