According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 18.5% of adults in the United States experience mental illness every year. That's a significant portion of our population—one in five people—yet the stigma and misunderstanding that surround mental health remain. Add a lengthy quarantine and global pandemic to the mix and the topic of mental health, as well as figuring out new ways to understand and take care of your own, is more important that ever.
As editors, we’re not here to dole out diagnoses, we’ll leave that to the doctors. What we are hoping to do is offer some reprieve—through helpful advice, understanding, or simple connectedness in a time when physically we’re all alone. That's why in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re highlighting raw, unfiltered stories of anxiety, isolation, depression, and the catharsis therapy or medication can bring. The hope? To feel as comfortable discussing our own mental health as we do our skincare routines.
My routine these days is pretty much the same every day. Wake up. Go through the news notifications on my phone to see what’s occurred around the world overnight. Become disillusioned with the state of the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic. Eat. Work. Then, at night, scroll through Twitter until I fall asleep in a haze of anxiety and devastation. Wash, rinse, repeat.
I began by telling myself of the importance of staying informed about the news. But after a few weeks of reading devastating news story after devastating news story, I found that I was developing symptoms that, if googled, suggested Coronavirus infection. Shortness of breath, chest tightness, nausea, and fatigue were all there in full force, and I was absolutely certain that I was going to begin coughing at any minute.
The cough never came. In fact, after sleeping for a few hours, I woke up to find I felt largely better for the rest of the day—until I read another news story about the Coronavirus, and my anxiety spiked. The symptoms returned in full force, and didn’t subside until I practiced some deep breathing exercises to prove to myself my lungs were perfectly fine. When I reported the symptoms to my therapist over the phone, she explained they were common physical manifestations of an anxiety attack. She also said it wasn’t the first time she’d heard of someone having these “pandemic side effects.”
When do you get to the point where remaining informed is detrimental to your health? I thought I was just staying up to date on a massive news story, but that mindset was affecting my health, and leaving me with immobilizing anxiety. So, is there a time you need to step away from the news cycle during a world event?
The bottom line, she said, is whatever you do during these uncertain times, self-care should be guiding your every decision.
The pandemic will remain at the top of the headlines for a long time, so finding some sort of balance between staying knowledgeable about what’s going on and also practicing self-care is crucial. Ideally, it's time to step away when you start to feel even an inkling of anxiety, but that’s not always how our minds work. Often, the anxiety we feel will creep up on us from behind, and capture our minds long before we ever realize it’s there. By the time we figure out we’re spiraling into an anxiety attack, we’re already in the middle of it.
My therapist suggested letting myself read the updates about the Coronavirus once a day (only the important things, like stay-at-home order extensions, or new vaccine developments) and staying away from them the rest of the time. This is easier said than done, of course—I myself found it hugely difficult to stick to it when I had literally nothing else to do—but, as my therapist told me, it’s one form of self-care we can do for ourselves to make a terrible time at least slightly better.
The bottom line, she said, is whatever you do during these uncertain times, self-care should be guiding your every decision. “The goal is to get through this. And everyday, finding something to positively combat the stress. This is the time to increase self-care, even if that means sleeping more and giving yourself permission to feel the full range of your feelings,” She told me. “I think you just do what you can, but make your self-care a priority. None of us have ever been through this. There is no guidebook for it."
The goal is to get through this. And everyday, finding something to positively combat the stress. This is the time to increase self-care, even if that means sleeping more and giving yourself permission to feel the full range of your feelings.
Giving myself that permission to feel my feelings was huge, and quite grounding. Stepping away from a news cycle during a pandemic may be difficult and sometimes impossible, but understanding why I’m feeling the way I’m feeling and allowing myself to feel that way is far easier. This has worked for me, as it allows me to understand where my emotions are coming from, and then resolve to just let them happen until they dissipate. It’s impossible to control how much news there is, but I can control my own response to it, and that feels good. Self-care looks different for everyone—this is mine.
Whatever makes you feel good, and happy, and better right now is the most important thing, whether you step away from the news cycle—or, reading the news constant if that happens to be your method of self-care.