This year has been one deadly rollercoaster after another. From Australia’s bushfires to COVID-19, this year is bound to unbalance even the most mentally stable among us. Anxiety is skyrocketing among the population, many of us feel paranoid and our fears of contagion will certainly linger — and have nasty side effects. But just like the saying goes, diamonds are made under pressure. Very rarely are strong people made from easy pasts and this pandemic is not an easy thing to endure. We can all come out of this period of heartache both better and stronger than before, if we allow ourselves to. The question is how can we use this time of uncertainty and fear to actually improve our mental health?
Apart from social distancing and being kind to one another, we can use this time to become more aware of both ourselves and the world around us. While this might seem like nothing big, as someone who’s been going to therapy for a few years now, I’ve found that becoming more self-aware is one of the most helpful things I can do for my mental health.
Not only does this allow me to know why I behave in a certain way, it also helps me notice when I’m exhibiting a behavior I want to change. This awareness helps me to change that behavior, which eventually makes me mentally healthier. This is a process I’ve gone through to help reduce my anxiety and learn how to communicate effectively, among other things.
But this is something we can do anytime, whether there’s a pandemic raging or not. So, how can we use this awareness to make us mentally healthier during and after this pandemic? What does this pandemic specifically give us that can make us better? It gives us time and space to think.
We can examine what makes us feel better or worse during this time of isolation, which helps to ensure that we meet those needs after this is all over. For me, I’ve found that I need human connection in order to feel at my best, whether that includes physical contact or not. So, in the future I’m going to make sure that I try to make those connections when needed. I will reach out to friends or family if I’ve noticed that I haven’t had enough social interaction — when that interaction is allowed of course.
I also know that I need to move; I can’t just sit in front of the TV all day because it makes me feel sluggish and unproductive. So, I’ve made sure that I work out every few days, and I plan to continue to move afterwards. The third thing I’ve realized is going outdoors and spending time on my hobbies makes me feel happier and more relaxed. So, I try to go outside or take a drive every few days if I can. I will also try to make time for my hobbies once life starts up at its breakneck pace again.
This is what I’ve discovered about myself so far during this pandemic, and I’m sure I’ll discover more as time goes on. These are all needs I have to meet in order to feel at my best, and these will be different for everyone. Since we’re all different people, we all have different things that make us feel happy and grounded in ourselves. How else can we use this awareness though?
Besides becoming aware of our needs, we can also look for all the ways that we are strong and capable, especially in a time when we probably feel vulnerable and out of control. For me, I’ve realized that even though these times are hard, I’m capable of withstanding them. I’ve realized that if I meet my needs and take care of myself in the best way I can, then I can endure this time of uncertainty and hardship with my mental health intact.
The third way that we can become aware is paying attention to the world around us (and not by obsessively watching the news either). We can notice all the uplifting things happening around us. I’ve noticed that more people are outside, taking strolls around the block and walking their dogs. People are baking bread like no tomorrow. And many of us now have more time to spend on our hobbies than before this pandemic.
All of these things give me hope for the world during these scary times. They show that even though this pandemic is raging over the entire world in countless painful ways, there are also good things that can come out of this. I don’t mean this in a way that promotes toxic positivity, but in a “there are two sides to every coin” type of way.
I’m not the person to sit here and tell you to always find the silver lining or look on the bright side because that doesn’t work for all of us. It sure doesn’t work for me. But I do think there’s something to acknowledging both the difficult and uplifting aspects to a situation. This is the same for the pandemic.
Being aware doesn’t just mean noticing the qualities of yourself that you want to change or the hard events happening in the world. It can also mean noticing the parts of yourself that you’re proud of and the events around you that give you hope. While this can be hard mental work, especially given the mental energy that enduring this pandemic requires, it can pay off in the long run if you let it. So, let’s put in the work to becoming mentally healthier and become diamonds in the process.