How To Support Your Mental Health During COVID-19
Written by Kianna Morgan, a therapist in training and MSW student. Kianna is passionate about trauma-informed practices and enjoys writing as a way to share empowering information with people suffering from trauma and chronic stress.
How is the COVID-19 pandemic traumatic?
While it is true that the world is an uncertain and ever changing place, predictability and expectancy are key factors that support safety and regulation for all humans. This is exactly why we create routines. Knowing (within reason) when, where and how we will work, exercise, socially engage, play, and relax allows us to settle into our lives and be present. This is in part due to the need to have access to the basic necessities for survival like food, water, shelter and care. Without those basics, our bodies will activate to ensure we acquire those necessities.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out not only the routines we have established for the healthy functioning of our lives and family units, but has also put at risk our access to the most basic of necessities. Whether you experience the actual loss of a job or are simply worried about losing a job, the body activates with the same defensive responses we’ve discussed in our blog on the polyvagal theory.
Trying to juggle work with changing child-care, while also being worried about losing that job and/or getting sick with COVID while on the job, are all real threats to our safety. For many, the intensity and the array of threats COVID has introduced are simply overwhelming. As we reach the point of overwhelm, the body mounts an intense final attempt to regain agency. This response can involve panic and rage. If that attempt is unsuccessful the body will shift into a freeze response and shut down.
Because the nature of the COVID pandemic is ever changing, many folks feel like they are swinging between panic and shutdown. This swing is very taxing to the system and can lead to chronic pain, gastrointestinal issues, challenges with sleep, brain fog, and difficulty connecting with others.
Thankfully, we can use somatic therapies to help support our nervous systems in the face of this uncertainty. Here at Red Beard Somatic Therapy, we specialize in trauma-informed practices that will help you settle your nervous system and support your ability to connect.
How can I connect with others and stay safe during COVID-19?
Many of us have been isolating during COVID-19 to protect our health. Unfortunately, this isolation puts a strain on our mental health because we are social animals by nature. We thrive on human connection. And, most importantly, we need to connect with others to feel safe.
So, we are faced with two needs that could not be more incompatible. The need to survive by not catching COVID-19, and the need to connect with others. Thankfully, we live in a time that makes connection possible even when we’re socially distanced. Technology allows us to bridge the physical gap between ourselves, allows us to connect with others, and even form new relationships.
The following are some ways you can use technology to connect with others:
I have a hard time connecting with people virtually. It isn’t the same. What should I do?
You are not alone in feeling that way! Talking to people virtually is vastly different from connecting face to face. Fortunately, we have a couple tricks up our sleeve that may help you feel more connected in a virtual world.
We recommend that you practice being more attuned to safety cues like warm smiles and inviting tones of voice. In face-to-face interactions we pick up on these cues naturally. It takes more effort to identify these cues when the other person is on the screen. Fortunately, exercising our ability to focus on safety cues will make connecting easier during reentry. It is truly a practice.
Identifying these cues when we see them will calm us and tell our body that we are safe in the moment. Our calmness will help create co-regulation and allow us to get more out of the interaction.
We also recommend giving voice to the challenges, concerns and worries you’ve been facing during COVID. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and connect through deep sharing that has meaning allows for stronger bonding. This is equally true whether face to face, or not.
Since the pandemic hit I haven’t been able to connect with others. How can I prepare for reentry?
The truth is that we need a functioning social engagement system to connect. Unfortunately, we also need to feel safe to enter social engagement. If our nervous system is searching for the next threat it cannot focus on social connection.
During COVID, many are already feeling under threat, which will diminish our ability to connect. Add to this the fact that face to face social interactions are risky and our social engagement system becomes even less accessible. The result is that the activity which normally soothes us becomes a new stressor.
Even now, as vaccinations are expanding and CDC guidelines are making it possible to be in-person with our loved ones (and in some cases even remove our masks!) you may feel a sense of conflict. Your experience might include both excitement and fear around hugging a friend for the first time in over a year.
Working with somatic therapies can help you settle your nervous system so that you can engage with people (whether in-person or online). Exploring safe ways of engaging will also help your nervous system settle, creating a compounding effect: settle to engage - engage to settle. By working with one of our providers you can prepare your nervous system to feel safe in those first moments of in-person connection.
Red Beard Somatic Therapy has a team of therapists that are dedicated to supporting you during these tumultuous times
Our therapists would be honored to help guide you on your healing journey. Book with us now to grasp onto the fulfilling life full of possibilities that you crave.