How to keep your mental health in an overwhelming world
In the midst of a global pandemic and a series of mass protests in reports to widespread reports of police brutality, it's easy to see how people might be feeling overwhelmed.
As a therapist at Sundstrom Clinical Services, Dr. Brianne Henry-McAllister has a window into how this precarious moment is affecting mental health and what people can do to cope.
"It's a lot for everybody right now, to hold the weight of our emotions and the emotions of others and yet not all emotion is necessarily something we need to be worried about or move away from," Henry-McAllister said. "A lot of emotion means that there's something there and it's something that we should pay attention to and lean into a little bit."
A psychologist serving kids, teens and adults, Henry-McAllister explained that when people feel like their emotions are too much, it's best to ask "What's underneath these emotions?"
These moments are an opportunity for self-exploration and even growth.
"What's going on right now can definitely lead to mental health struggles but I also think it can lead to emotional and cognitive growth so when things are difficult, that's often when the most growth is happening," she said. "Yes there are negative things; there's a lot of stress and pains in our lives right now, and I think that's also an ideal opportunity to create some change and growth."
To stay mentally healthy, Henry-McAllister advised that one of the best things people can do is practice basic self care, like getting enough sleep and exercise and eating well. She also noted that people should be conscious of how much substance they are taking in, acknowledging that, culturally, it seems expected for people to drink more.
Having supportive people around is especially important right now, she added.
Today many people have taken on extra roles they may not be used to. In addition to their regular jobs, parents have become teachers. Many are struggling to balance their own jobs, their kids at home, their kids' school work and their relationships.
"I don't think we can be expected to do all of those perfectly," Henry-McAllister said. "We need to lean on each other."
Henry-McAllister also noted that some people are not having a difficult time right now. Mental health-wise, people are all across the board, she said.
"Kids who needed a break or needed a different social situation tend to be doing better at home, just with their family because it's really comfortable," Henry-McAllister said. "For kids who love to be around their friends or really thrive off of the social part of learning, they are really missing out on those peer relationships and social support."
She also said that things might be worse for families with unhealthy dynamics at home.
Henry-McAllister also noted seeing higher levels of stress in people who serve as care-takers at work, like doctors and nurses, and at home.
For people feeling more stressed lately, more anxious, or who are struggling in other ways, Henry-McAllister said now might be the best time to turn to therapy for help. With therapists, like those at Sundstrom, meeting with patients virtually, clients don't have to worry about arranging childcare or transportation, she explained.
"I think right now especially our world can be kind of judgemental right now about how people are processing information and therapy is a really private space for you to be able to think about how you're thinking and how you're feeling," she said. "Especially when it comes to racial equity, if we're going to do really good work, we have to be able to be really honest with ourselves and get to some tough discussions and conversations and there's not a ton of space for that right now."
Henry McAllister said that she's been pleasantly surprised with how well virtual therapy sessions have worked so far. People, especially adolescents, seem more comfortable in their own homes, she said. She also noted that it provides a glimpse into the home lives of her patients.
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