Mental Health Check-In: Ways to cope with tremendous turmoil and stress

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by C.S. Sherin

updated 13 November 2020

Here I am. Checking in on you….

During times of major stress, uncertainty, and change, it is handy to use a bag of tricks to maintain health and sanity. Trying times call for intuition, common sense, creativity, and practicality. It is time to remind you to create or check on your bag of tricks, so that it is ready when you need it.

Much like an emergency go bag, the bag of tricks can serve you well during hard times. Actually a go bag may be a literal part of your bag of tricks. How does that work? Well, you want to be prepared in case of an emergency or natural disaster, because being prepared gives peace of mind, which relieves stress. Therefore, keeping a go bag ready may be something you choose to do to ease anxiety during uncertain times. That is a practical action that can be kept in the proverbial bag of tricks.

Bags of tricks can be lifesavers, but please note that they can’t be a lifesaver all of the time. Even with a full bag of tricks for coping, I find myself, in the year 2020, unable to do much of anything on the hard days. I have come to the conclusion that, despite all of my health-minded coping, on those days, my nerves are frayed, and I must take it easy. And, if that means sitting and doing nothing for a bit, that is okay.

“It is okay to not be okay.” Oftentimes not being okay is a healthy response to unhealthy conditions.

Here are some more examples of some tricks in my bag. One, I recognize my lifelines: nature, my animal companions, loved ones, and friends. I am thankful for these lifelines during uncertain times. Even if everything with them isn’t going perfectly, I hold a thankfulness for them in my mind and heart each day. Another example, just now, during this stressful time of election results and a pandemic, as I write, I need to take my dog outside, and it is a gorgeous outside (the day I am writing this). What I discover is that the little lunch break I take, recharging in the sun, and taking a walk with my dog is…well, it is exactly what I needed.

Likewise, I know that baking may also be just what I need on a hard day, or making soup. Those are activities that allow me to dwell in the present moment, unburdened of anything else. Those are moments of being, of zen peacefulness. During hard times, taking it one moment at a time, allowing myself to process and deal with things in my own way is most helpful. Sometimes that is all that can be done.

Also during hard times, I know how important it is to limit time and energy spent listening to news and social media. There has to be a balance. When I start feeling dragged down after listening to too much news, or too much social media, then I have already gone too far with it. But, even in going too far, there is always room to adjust and change course.

There are many ways to cope with stress and turmoil. When it is on an ongoing basis, it is best to tap into your bag of tricks.

Ways To Cope During Times of Turmoil

I am pulling all the tricks out of my bag to cope with the ongoing stress of this time. Sure I am. You bet I am. And I encourage you to do so as well. But, wait a minute…what does that actually mean?

Well, I think of Mary Poppin’s (“Mary Poppins,” 1964) carpet bag that was much bigger on the inside, and contained whatever she needed at the moment. Or, Hermione Granger’s tiny purse (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 2007) that was also enormous on the inside. It held all that she and her companions needed during quite dark and dangerous times…

We could also call it a quite versatile, light, and well-stocked tool box.

The contents of this proverbial tool box, or somewhat magical-imaginal bag, are: lessons, symbols, activities, relationships, practices, and skills that have served me well. My collection is unique to me. Yours is unique to you. Yet, there are many items that are also familiar and well-used, that we all have in common too. The contents vary, they may be practical, common sense, spiritual, creative, or otherwise. Some may be used more than others…

Here are only some, which I have utilized in recent weeks and months:

  • Listening to and following intuition, dream messages, and personal needs (including basic ones like: sleep, hunger, a good diet, hydration, safety, boundaries, etc). And, following through, with appropriate responses for situation and moment.
  • Walking, running, and/or dancing for stress relief, health, and aerobic (heart and lungs healthy) exercise. When it is too cold outside I run in place indoors, dance, and stretch. It should be noted that I am not “a runner” and am not fastidious about exercise. Yet, I have found it essential to my mental health and general health at this time. Exercise can immediately improve mental health.
  • Epsom salt baths and/or warm or cool showers as needed, with or without aromatherapy and candles. Water is healing.
  • Burning incense and lighting candles with intention. Engaging our senses, and creating rituals of meaning can relieve stress and increase a sense of well being.
  • Healing visualizations and visualizing healing journeys in the imaginal realm (related to dream work, and life and healing, in general). Visualizing what we want (healing, health, success with goals and growth) can positively contribute to making it a reality!
  • Meditation, prayer, and breath work. Each of these has a positive impact on our well being, and is totally free!
  • Calling, texting, emailing, and/or video chatting with close and dear family and friends. Keeping in contact with loved ones can be a way to recharge, get and give new perspective, support, and connect. Talking about feelings, thoughts, joys and struggles in a safe relationship and place can be helpful.
  • Quality time alone that may include dream journaling, writing, contemplation, rest, being, and checking in on what is going on, on the inside. Time alone is essential for introverts to recharge. It can also be good for those who are taking care of others all the time.
  • Quality time with a significant other. Take time to relax together, eat together, walk together, and discuss feelings and needs together. Choose healthier activities together, with permission to tend to what needs to be done, but also with some freedom to check out from stress sources, as needed. Lately, my significant other and I have begun drawing together after dinner, with a candle lit…a great way to relax, connect, and unwind.
  • Being true to a personal to-do list, work, and weekly chores. I make every effort to be true to myself and my responsibilities, goals, and dreams. There is always room for backwards and forward movement, but I know that, ultimately, I feel best when I am keeping up with my responsibilities and what is important to me.
  • Maintaining healthy boundaries. It’s great and important to be there for others, and to help and support others. And, maintaining a healthy balance with that is so necessary. I am always seeking a happy balance between independence/self-reliance and interdependence/outreach. I am not seeking to help or serve others if or when my “well is dry.” In other words, I want and need to take proper care of myself, and tend to my own needs first, before reaching out to help others. Healthy boundaries also means letting go of connections and relationships/friendships that are no longer healthy or sustainable.
  • Creativity can provide new energy, new perspective, stress relief, and a renewed sense of well being. Here are some ideas: painting, drawing, writing; cooking, making soup, baking; re-arranging, cleaning, and clearing out clutter; working with herbs, plants, and/or flowers; being crafty, etc.
  • Sitting with symbols, mythology, and mystical aspects of our psyches and lives. This can be as diverse and varied as it sounds. It could be studying mythology, symbols, spirituality, or mysticism. It could also be a book (fiction or nonfiction) that honors those aspects of life in some way. Or, it could be dream symbols, dream work, or healing visualization journeying. It could also be simply sitting with (and/or living with special) symbols of spirituality, religion or belief, such as: a Buddha, angel, sacred geometry, or a certain drawing or painting. Please note, these kinds of things need to be nourishing and life-affirming to be worthwhile. Sitting with symbols and the mystical could just as easily come about sitting in nature or at home doing very little. It can also mean creating an altar in the home, that is filled with symbols and items that nourish and comfort the spirit.
  • Learn a new language. There are free apps to get you started on any language you’ve ever wanted to learn. It only takes 10 minutes a day, and is great for the brain!
  • Meditating with and speaking the Metta and Heart Sutra is a mindfulness practice that can be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually strengthening and centering.
  • Spending quality time with animal companions, outdoors, recharging in the sun. Taking care of animal companions can be a reciprocal kind of care-giving. I get as much as I give when spending time with, and caring for, our cats, fish and dog. Likewise, it is just as nourishing to feed the wild birds outside, and to sit in the sunshine and just be.
  • Making time and space in life for random acts of kindness for others.
  • Remembering that everyone is under stress now, everyone is struggling (pandemic, finances, acts of hate, environmental and political/social turmoil). So, patience and kindness are needed with just about everything. That doesn’t mean taking abuse. But, it does mean self-checking for unnecessary and thoughtless levels of impatience, anger, or entitlement.
  • Moderation in all things. It is important to avoid overdoing (or neglecting) anything that could affect us (and/or others) negatively over time. It is important to find a happy medium, in general, and to resist falling into unhealthy coping mechanisms and/or addictions. Also, it is important to realize that no one is able to keep perfect balance all the time. But, it is to our benefit to continue strive for that balance in general.
  • Reading a good, informative, inspiring, responsible, practical, funny, and/or escapist/fantasy book. Whatever feels right as far as reading goes, can be helpful right now. I just picked up one of Ursula Le Guin’s latest books from the library, “No Time To Spare”.
  • Be super gentle and kind to self. When the crisis passes, continue being kind to self (and others).
  • Do what you love. Doing what you love automatically creates happiness and a path to a sense of fulfillment.
  • Respond to immediate needs and situations. Let the rest be for now. Accept what you feel in each moment, and move forward from there. Feelings naturally change and shift. Allow them to. Let go of old ways and feelings that don’t work anymore.
  • “Whatever gets you through the night” ~ John Lennon (As long as it doesn’t harm others or yourself.)
  • Which leads to last, but not least: music. Music, and lots of it, can be a lifesaver. I’ve got a WFMU playlist going right now, thanks to a link from some good friends! 🙂
Image for post
My dog, Samantha, falling asleep while waiting for her lunchtime walk with me.

Well, that was a good start to that list of all the go-to lessons, skills, and tools in the toolbox for the enduring spirit, who is living as a human in these times. What would you add? What helps you right now?

Coping skills are one thing, but some people are facing more serious problems that require more than self-help type pro-activity. People who are experiencing severe or chronic mental illness; unsafe, dysfunctional or abusive relationships; homelessness or the threat of homelessness; and/or addictions to alcohol and/or other substances need professional help and community resources. If you find yourself in any of these situations, please reach out for help from professionals, support groups, and other resources. There is no shame in needing help or in asking for help.

If you are struggling, in crisis, or feeling suicidal, please reach out for help now.

If you have family members or friends who are: LGBTQ+, Native, Black, a person of color, in recovery, or someone else who is marginalized and/or deeply affected by discriminatory political decisions/laws, please check in on them at this time — if you are able to be a positive and supportive presence in their lives.

Some people simply don’t have the energy to do anything proactive for themselves or others right now. It is okay to let your self be, to rest, and to take time to recover. It is okay to not have the energy to use your best coping skills each day. Allow yourself time and space to be, without pressure to do more or be more all the time.

Remember that bad days pass, and each day can be new and different.

However, if a loss of energy, motivation, and enjoyment of life persists, it may be time to see a doctor to make sure everything is okay with your overall health.

Even without insurance or affordable health insurance, many cities offer free or discounted services to those in need at special clinics. Our city has a free clinic for some, a discounted flat rate clinic, food pantries, a homeless shelter, a shelter for women leaving abusive relationships, places for recovery from addiction, and a warming center. In addition, your city’s website should have a page of resources for residents related to Covid-19. Do a search in your city to see what resources may be available for you.

These are unprecedented times, and mental health issues are on the rise, and are expected to continue increasing. Know that you aren’t alone. Know that you matter. Reach out for help whenever you need it, as often as necessary.

May all that is good and loving support, guide, and protect you. And may this ultimately be a sure passageway of time to a renewal of healthy, healing ways forward for our country.

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