A Self-Care Toolbox for Mental Health Awareness Month

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The following was contributed by Kathryn Owen from Desert Star Addiction Recovery Center.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and also the month that Arizonans are beginning to dip our toes into the new normal of everyday life as Stay-At-Home orders are lifted. Navigating the uncertainties of pandemic life is challenging even for those of us who have never been diagnosed with a mental health condition. Have you noticed yourself being more short-tempered? Feeling dread about the future? Having difficulties falling asleep or relaxing? Having trouble coping with the boredom and isolation of staying at home, or with the burnout of continuing to work or to school your children?

You are not alone. Across the country, calls to crisis lines are coming in faster than ever before. People are seeking help from therapists or treatment centers even as those providers are struggling to adapt by implementing telehealth and virtual treatment options. We who work in the behavioral health field are bracing ourselves for another type of wave rising in the wake of COVID-19: an unprecedented number of Americans seeking help for anxiety, for depression, for grief, for suicidal thoughts.



In the face of all of this, it is more important than ever to practice self-care to keep ourselves centered, hopeful, and healthy. Here are a few simple tools that anyone can use in their daily lives.


Fill your calendar




As orders to stay at home went into place across the country, events were canceled, and many schools and workplaces were closed down or moved online, you may have found that your calendar was abruptly empty. Your sleep, meal, or exercise schedule may have gone haywire. Were you angry, sad, or scared? First of all, give yourself permission to feel those emotions and grieve the loss of events and structure that were important to you.

Then, do what you can to establish a new structure and fill up your calendar. Work on going to bed and getting up at the same time each day. Make sure you’re eating and engaging in physical activities regularly. Schedule a recurring check-in online or on the phone with loved ones. Put your household chores, dog walks, story hours with your kids on your calendar. Your routine may have changed, but you can still have a calendar full of nourishing, important activities, and avoid the feeling of being adrift in time.

Make a gratitude list

What are you thankful for? It’s not an easy question to answer when the hits keep coming. You may be dealing with changes and challenges you never imagined were possible. There are many things about your situation that you cannot control, but you can choose which thoughts you put your energy into. So, what are you thankful for? Make a list. It can be big things, like having a job or a place to live, or the health of yourself or people you love, or small things, like your morning cup of coffee, a favorite shirt, or the lovely spring nights in the desert. Keep your list in your purse or pocket, and look at it when you start to feel hopeless and resentful.

Practice grounding techniques

Also known as centering, grounding is a technique that can help you deal with emotional pain and anxiety. Best of all, grounding exercises can be done anywhere, anytime without anyone else even noticing. Does your anxiety spike when you have to make trips to the grocery store? Take a moment to practice some grounding techniques before you walk through the doors, or even as you browse the aisles.

Grounding is all about reorienting your focus from your inner thoughts to the outer world. Take notice of details around you without any judgment. Locate 3 things that are blue (or another color, texture, or material) in your surroundings. Pick up a package and read the letters of the words backward. Notice the temperature, and if you feel warm or cool. How does the floor feel under your feet? Is the cart’s wheel squeaking as you push it? Consciously direct your attention away from anxious or painful thoughts about what has happened or what may happen. Think about right here, right now, and most of all that you are safe.

Go on a media diet


Especially with so many hours going to Netflix and video games and watching the news, be mindful of what you’re consuming. Find a balance between staying informed and feeding into your anxiety by limiting your daily intake of pandemic news. Watch and read and listen to things that help you feel calm or happy. This may be a good time to skip the thrillers and the sad songs and try out a guided meditation video instead.
Reach out for help

Feeling out of your depth? Are you struggling to get through your days, or do you just need a little extra support? Don’t feel like you need to put support and treatment on hold until the pandemic passes. Many support groups and 12-step meetings have gone online. Therapists, psychiatrists, and treatment centers are all offering sessions and programs virtually, from the safety of your home. Crisis lines are available 24 hours per day. You can get through this, and you don’t have to do it alone.

24/7 Crisis Hotline: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network
www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
1-800-273-TALK (8255) (Veterans, press 1) 24/7 service.

Crisis Text Line -Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7 service.

Veterans Crisis Line
- Send a text to 838255

SAMHSA Treatment Referral Hotline (Substance Abuse)
1-800-662-HELP (4357) National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7/365 treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET.
1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org

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