Essential Coping Skills for Mental Health Recover
We All Need One Year Into COVID-19
This past year, with COVID-19, many, many people have struggled. What was needed were coping skills for mental health recovery, but accessing them was a challenge with so much uncertainty and fear.
For some, life has been worse and for others, life has been better. It has a lot to do with your situation. Perhaps, you are out of work or perhaps you are working more hours than before.
When stress arises, your ability to manage through your stress and difficulties is what therapists call your “ability to cope”. For many people, coping with the basics of life has been hard. Some clients have shared that before COVID-19 coping was easy. Today, it’s harder. That may be because of an increase in feelings of anxiety or depression. Or it may simply be loneliness or feeling stuck. Whatever it is for you, coping skills for many are at an all-time low yet the bandwidth to learn “one more thing” feels insurmountable.
Coping skills do not need to be difficult to apply to your life. When they are done well, they are really quite simple and this article will show you how it’s done.
We begin by acknowledging how difficult the past year has been…
One of the first ways of coping is to acknowledge how COVID-19 has affected you.
Sometimes we do not realize what the issue(s) is until it is already affecting us. It is just like a health diagnosis, it is easier to manage the situation when you know the issue. Then you can choose how you want to deal with it.
Emotional control is what helps us best with any situation. This may be something that you are good at or it may be something that you have a hard time with.
Controlling your emotions is paramount to dealing with stress and difficult situations. When you can tap into your emotional control, you have the resources you need to calmly deal with whatever is in front of you.
Another term for emotional control is “Emotional Intelligence” or E.Q. You can read more about my writing on EQ here.
Deep diaphragmatic breathing
The best source for you to control your emotions is by learning a combination of grounding, good body alignment (posture), and diaphragmatic breathing. These three are the essential ingredients for feeling calm, centered, and in control of your moment.
Grounding is simple. It consists of feeling your feet on the ground. If you are sitting, feeling your thighs on the seat of the chair and your back on the back of the chair. When you are aware of your body in this position, you are on your way to being physically grounded.
Correct body posture is next and this involves having an upright posture. This is not leaning forward or backward. It is upright and is the required posture for diaphragmatic breathing.
With the breathing, it does not matter if the breath comes in through the nose or the mouth. The goal is that the breath must go into the diaphragm and not the lungs. You know the difference when you see movement in either your chest or your belly.
In diaphragmatic breathing, there should be no movement in the chest…rising or expanding. The movement should happen in your belly
Essential Coping Skills For Mental Health RecoveryTo know you’re doing it right, put your hand on your belly button and see if it moves when you breathe. Is your belly rising and falling with normal breaths? That’s the sign you’re doing it correctly.
If you’re curious about how this works, watch a baby or toddler to see how they breathe. Their belly button is moving in and out and not their chest.
Practice this, you can learn to do it!
Physical exercise is not always a part of your life. For many people, this is even more true during the pandemic. Being quarantined at home, through all four seasons, has left many people in stationary positions more often than before.
This isn’t a natural way of being for most people. As young children, exercise was a part of classes. And for anyone working on learning coping skills for their mental health, a little bit of exercise can do wonders to moderate your emotions.
Physical exercise does not mean that you must go to the gym to exercise. It can be as simple as going for a walk. You can set your own pace and work as hard or gently as you like.
If you are older, say over 30, if you are starting a new exercise program you may need to talk to your health practitioner before you start. However, for many people, taking a walk around the block is an easy thing to do.
The goal is to find what you enjoy doing and make time for it
Another idea for coping skills for mental health recovery is to continue to do the things that you enjoy within the limits of the restrictions in your area.
That may mean that you have to find new ways to adapt to what you have done in the past. This is where you get to use your imagination…to think outside of the box of new ways to do things.
It may be that you have hobbies that you enjoy. This is a good time to continue the ones that you are able to. If you have ones that you are not able to do right now…perhaps you can start planning projects that you can do later.
There are tremendous mental health benefits to having things to look forward to. Just watch how many of your “good things” are deep into the future. If you can, find a few things you can enjoy doing today as well.
Having ways to spend your time that excites you or ignites your curiosity will alleviate your boredom, one of the pandemic’s side effects.
In some cases, finding things to do with other people is the goal. This is especially true if you struggle with loneliness or feelings of isolation. Virtual events of all kinds are available online and even if you’re unsure about meeting strangers, sometimes it can help.
Hugs are a much-needed item for survival. In this light, we’re talking about non-sexual hugs and other human touches as what’s truly needed for survival.
If you are in an environment where you can get lots of hugs that is great.
If you are living alone and are not able to get hugs from others during COVID-19 there are other ways to satisfy the need.
If you have an animal that is cuddly. By all means, use this to satisfy your need for physical touch and cuddles. Pets are great.
If you are by yourself and have no way to get any physical touch, here are a few things you can try:
- Give yourself a hug by wrapping your arms around your shoulders or around your waist. Hold for 5 seconds.
- Hug a pillow or stuffed animal in the same way.
- Or take a bath and touch yourself in a non-sexual way. Wash your hair or rub your shoulders as an example of healing, non-sexual touch.
Be kind to yourself if you have not had a hug for a long time. Sometimes, your first hug after a long time without one can make you feel a little emotional. That’s not uncommon.
In any coping skill for mental health recovery affirming yourself is essential to your emotional health. Another way to say this is being careful with what you say to yourself.
Affirmations are positive self-talk. You can use them as a way to construct positive thoughts directed at yourself to help improve your mood, elevate your thinking, or even focus your mind on one task over another.
Positive self-talk is an important part of coping in a healthy way, yet for many, it doesn’t happen naturally or even easily. In fact, this may be something that is very hard for you.
Perhaps, your internal dialog is such that you take anything positive and turn it into a negative. Something like saying, “I am o.k” to yourself is too strong for you. Now would be the time to start increasing your positive self-talk as slowly as you need. The goal isn’t to say things that are unbelievable to yourself, rather say positive statements that you can grow into believing. For some, this process evolves very slowly.
Perhaps, you use affirmations all the time and know what you are doing. Continue to use them. It will continue to benefit you.
For the person who has never used affirmations, now might be a good time to start. Find a saying that resonates with you. It could be, “I can do this” or “It will be ok”. You want the affirmation to be something you can speak or read to yourself often to reinforce the sentiment behind the words, even if you’re not fully sure it’s true or you believe it 100% in the moment.
You can read it when you need it most or you can look at it several times a day. You could even print it out (make an art project with it) and put it in a safe place so you can see it often.
However, you use your affirmations, over time they work and reinforce your growing sense of wellbeing and health.
If you’re like me, the past year has been incredible in the true sense of that word. Very little happened as we imagined it would, and collectively, we have all been affected by the incredible circumstances COVID put on our doorsteps.
As we come out of lockdown and the limitations on our lives, it’s quite possible that you will feel depleted, overwhelmed, or as if you need to take things slowly. In this, you’re not alone. Developing healthy coping skills will help ease you out of the past year so you can restart your life.
Even if the life you restart is wildly different from the one you were in when the pandemic began. Your mental health will continue to improve as you nurture yourself. These coping skills are a great place to start.
If you feel as if your coping skills are not working as well as you want them to, perhaps counseling is the best next step. If you’re in Alberta, please contact me to explore working together to help you get back on your feet.