Protecting Your Mental Health During Times of Fear, Crisis, and Uncertainty


Living in a Changing World

There is no doubt about it, these are unprecedented times. We are living through a global pandemic, a quarantine, an economic crisis, experiencing a massive amount of global and national deaths, and dealing with all the other impacts these issues continue to cause in our personal and professional lives.

There is so much we don’t know, so much we don’t understand, and so much that is still yet to come. The times we are presently living in are unlike anything we have ever experienced before. They have changed life as we know it, and life as we know it will likely never return.

  • Data shows that mental health is at an all-time low during these unprecedented times.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that nearly half of Americans in a self-reported study noted that this crisis is harming their mental health in some form or fashion.

Talkspace, an online therapy company, reported a 65% spike in clientele since mid-February when the health crisis began to peak.

According to the Washington Post, “Nearly half of Americans report the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. A federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress registered a more than 1,000 percent increase in April compared with the same time last year. Last month, roughly 20,000 people texted that hotline, run by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.”

This data and others like it show just how impacted people have been and continue to be by what is going on.

The question is, “What do we do about it?”

As we can clearly see, things are not getting better anytime soon. And while we can and certainly should still maintain hope, we have to also arm ourselves with a firm understanding of our mental health needs and practical strategies for coping so that we can not only survive, but progress and thrive during these times. This will give us the best chance of getting through this with grace and positivity no matter how long this crisis persists.


How the Current State of Events Can Harm Mental Health

The current state of events can certainly harm mental health. We are dealing with a virus that everyone, including the medical professionals, are still learning about as we go. So much is constantly shifting and changing week by week, day by day, and sometimes hour by hour.

  • Times such as these that are high in fear, chaos, and uncertainty can induce an array of negative emotions, unhealthy coping mechanisms, and mental health disorders/ailments.

High levels of stress, worry, and anxiety tend to be the most commonly experienced emotions during times such as these. Research shows that there is in fact a correlation between the intolerance of uncertainty and anxiety, worry, and stress.

Evidence suggests that the less comfortable a person is with not knowing what to expect in a particular situation, the higher the likelihood of anxiety. As a result of the increased anxiety, there is then increased worry and ultimately increased stress (Peterson, 2017).

The inability to tolerate uncertainty also impacts our thoughts and behaviors. As we feel feelings of anxiety, worry, and stress, our thoughts become consumed with worst-case scenarios and potential negative outcomes.

Since negativity feeds on itself, as we dwell on the negative, we think more about the negative until it seems to take over our thoughts completely. As our thoughts become consumed by negativity, our emotions are unavoidably impacted also. We can experience anhedonia, a component of depression where there is a reduction in pleasure and positivity.

We actually become less capable of experiencing positive emotions and pleasurable experiences as a result of the effect that our negative feelings have on our thoughts. This can cause us to make negative behavioral choices such as disengaging from relationships, refraining from eating, partaking in substance abuse, or lashing out at others, among other things.

We can even become paralyzed by anxiety, worry, and stress, and become dormant or “stuck,” effectively not moving forward in our lives because we don’t know what might happen (Peterson, 2017).

A cross-sectional multistage study published in March 2020 looked at 11,954 students recruited from 50 Chinese universities among various cities, provinces, regions, and municipalities in China.

The study aimed to look at the relationships between the types of stress students experienced and their mental health, to distinguish the effects of stressors on mental health problems, and to explore the important role of uncertainty stress on the development of mental disorders.

The Student Daily Stress Questionnaire (SDSQ) was applied to measure the different types of stress, and mental health status was measured using the 12-item Chinese Health Questionnaire (CHQ). Both unadjusted and adjusted logistic regression models were utilized in the statistical analyses. Multilevel analyses were performed to examine the variation of mental disorder at both the individual and university levels (Wu et. al., 2020).

The results of the study revealed that the prevalence of mental disorders was 22.8%. The unadjusted models showed that age, gender, grade, major, and university location and type were the correlates of mental disorders among students. Researchers were able to conclude that study stress, life stress, and uncertainty stress were positively associated with mental disorders.

The multilevel logistic regression models showed that uncertainty stress was far more likely to result in students’ mental disorders than study or life stress after controlling for the university level. It was noted that the greater the perceived uncertainty stress, the higher the prevalence of mental disorders (Wu et. al., 2020), thus demonstrating how times of fear, uncertainty, and chaos can in fact lead to negative mental health impacts.

Mental Health Impacts Physical Health

The impacts on mental health can then go on to impact the physical health as well.

Three Stages of Response to Stressors

As outlined in Hans Selye’s general adaptation syndrome, the body goes through three stages as it responds to stressors: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion.

  • Alarm: In this stage, there is recognition of danger and preparation to deal with the threat. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and autonomic nervous system are activated and the primary stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and nonadrenaline are released.
  • Resistance: In this stage, homeostasis begins restoring balance and a period of recovery for repair and renewal takes place. Stress hormones may return to normal, but there may be reduced defenses and adaptive energy left.
  • Exhaustion: At this stage, the stress has continued for some time. The body’s ability to resist is lost because its adaption energy supply is gone. This is often referred to as overload, burnout, adrenal fatigue, maladaptation, or dysfunction.

It is once the body has reached the exhaustion stage as a result of prolonged exposure to stress that the physical implications and impacts of decreased mental health in response to prolonged exposure to fear, chaos, and uncertainty can truly be felt.

This can manifest as:

  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Endocrine system dysfunction
  • Sleep cycle disturbances
  • Autonomic nervous system changes
  • Specifically, as chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia, insulin resistance, migraines, and even eating disorders, among a wide variety of other physical impacts (Rosenberg, 2017).

It is of vital importance to spot and address mental health issues during such drastic times as soon as they arise so that they don’t manifest into larger problems.


How Traumatic Events Affect Our Mental Health and Our Lives

  • Mental health is substantially impacted when we experience trauma and traumatic events.

Trauma puts our minds and bodies in a heightened primal state (fight or flight response). The stress hormone cortisol is released, and this can be problematic for the body, leading to issues such as inflammation, migraines, and chronic pain conditions. Not only that, but there are heightened levels of anxiety, greater rates of depression, and greater sensitivity to stress (Cleveland, 2020).

The impacts of trauma on our mental health aren’t just short-term. They can also extend far beyond the traumatic event(s) themselves.

  • Research has shown that individuals who have experienced trauma or significant stress often go on to have mental health disorders such as chronic anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

In the grand scheme of things, these issues can go on to impact our lives in major ways.

  • We can find ourselves more susceptible to a mental breakdown, more vulnerable to substance abuse and risky behaviors, and less likely to cope with future stresses.
  • Studies have shown that most people who seek inpatient treatment for personality disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, or depression, were exposed to some type of trauma or abuse at some point in their life (Bhandari, 2018). If we are not careful, trauma can lead to lifelong issues that make it hard for us to engage with others or even just exist in everyday society.
  • Anxiety can become crippling to the point where we cannot complete simple tasks without panic attacks.
  • Depression can become such that we are unable to leave our homes to form/maintain meaningful relationships.
  • PTSD can mean that small stimuli trigger large, negative emotional and mental reactions that again cause life to be a challenge.

Taking measures in the midst of a traumatic event to protect the health of the mind and body can go a long way for helping to build resilience once the trauma has passed.


Signs of Mental and Emotional Distress

  • There are a variety of signs and signals that can indicate mental and emotional distress. These are the first signs that appear when you may be tracking towards an unhealthy path.

Noticing these signs and addressing them early on is crucial for overall health and wellness of the brain and mind. Such signs and signals can include the following (Power of Positivity, 2016):

Mental/Emotional Drain

Feeling mental and emotional drain may be one of the first signs of mental and emotional distress. Repeated exposure to chronic stress can zap mental, emotional, and physical energy, making you feel like you’re in a constant state of fatigue and stress.

Emotional Reactivity

Another sign of distress is an increase in emotional reactivity. A person is likely to be more highly sensitive to normal events and situations, which results in outbursts of anger, frustration, and other negative emotions.

Impatience

In conjunction with increased reactivity is decreased patience. Often, tolerance levels are significantly decreased when someone is experiencing mental and emotional distress. This means they are brought to the point of emotional reactivity much quicker than they normally would be.

Withdrawal

When experiencing emotional and mental distress, the natural instinct is to escape the situation or stimuli causing the distress. This often results in withdrawing from friends, family, and other forms of community.

Not only does withdrawing provide an opportunity to escape from the distress, but it also allows people not to confront the negative feelings/emotions/behaviors the distress may be causing. Lack of interaction with others often prevents accountability, which is where dangerous and harmful behaviors and patterns can set in.


Risk of Depression

  • It is important for us to know the signs of depressive symptoms, especially during a time that makes us more susceptible to depression. This awareness can help us catch ourselves before we fall into a deep depressive pit so that we can take measures to pull ourselves out of that pit.

Defined, depression (major depressive disorder) is a mood disorder that leads to an overwhelming and ongoing feeling of sadness and loss of interest. It impacts thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and can lead to an array of emotional and physical issues (Shiel, 2020).

Those experiencing depressive symptoms cannot simply “snap out of” a depressive state. There are supports and strategies needed to help people effectively cope with their depression and symptoms.

There are a variety of symptoms that might indicate someone is depressed or leaning in that direction. A person can have a combination of these symptoms and typically experiences them on a persistent basis in a manner that impacts all aspects of their daily lives.

Signs of Depression

Such signs include (Mayo Clinic, 2018):

  • Feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • Anxiety, restlessness, and agitation
  • Outbursts of anger, irritability, and frustration
  • Lack of energy and tiredness
  • Loss of interest/pleasure in normal activities or hobbies once enjoyed
  • Decreased appetite/weight loss or increased cravings/weight gain
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, remembering things, or making decisions
  • Disrupted sleep patterns, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and fixating on self-blame and past mistakes
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, or suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

The Pitfalls of Social Isolation

Though many of us have been in quarantine and therefore some sort of isolation for a prolonged period of time, it is important to be aware of and avoid the pitfalls of total isolation.

University of Chicago researcher John Cacioppo notes that roughly 20% of people are unhappy at a given time as a result of social isolation (Edmonds, 2010).

One can certainly assume that percentage increases substantially when experiencing a global health crisis that has led to physical isolation from many within our community for a prolonged period of time.

Research has shown that isolation has a profound impact on the human brain and body.

Isolation, which is often equated with loneliness, can damage both our mental and physical health.

  • Evidence shows that socially isolated people are less able to deal with stressful situations. There is also an increased likelihood of experiencing depression and difficulty with processing information, recalling memories, and even decision-making.
  • When the impacts of social isolation are enhanced by a physically isolating environment, there can be negative psychological effects such as increased anxiety, increased levels of paranoia, less clarity of thinking, and an increased likelihood of panic attacks.
  • Research has also shown a link between social isolation and loneliness and decreased immunity. Researchers have found that the immune system of a person identified as lonely or isolated responds less effectively to fighting viruses and pathogens, thereby increasing susceptibility to illness (Robinson, 2019). One study involving mice found that subjects placed in isolation experienced an increase in cancerous tumor growth. Another study found that the impacts of isolation were similar to those of obesity and smoking (Edmonds, 2010).

Maintaining Social Connection During a Pandemic

  • While we may be physically distant, we do not have to and should not completely shut people out of our lives.

We can still make attempts to include and involve people in our lives, even in the midst of a pandemic and a quarantine. This may require a bit of creativity or technological assistance, but there are ways to ensure connectivity even in the absence of physical presence.

  • The use of social media and video conferencing platforms is a great way to stay in frequent communication with loved ones in real-time.
  • Drive-by visits, parties, and parades have also become popular ways to maintain celebrations of meaningful moments while still adhering to recommended or required health and safety protocols.
  • Good old-fashioned calls and letters can also provide a warm and welcoming bright spot in the day of yourself and others. It allows you to check-in on the welfare of others while also having the socialization to keep you going during these tough times.

Managing Anxiety During Stressful Times

Just about everything in life comes with stress. There’s good stress like having a baby, getting married, or buying a home, and then there’s bad stress such as getting divorced, having a death in the family, losing your job, or the current pandemic that is raging through the world.

Right now, anxiety is rampant as people face an uncertain future, a changing world, fear, chaos, and turmoil amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Either type can cause severe mental anguish and anxiety. Now, let’s talk about a few ways that you can manage your anxiety during stressful times.

Take the Time to Relax

Anxiety will leave you with racing thoughts, an inability to focus, and trouble falling asleep at night. You’ll find it hard to quiet your mind or take a deep breath during the day. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends taking a “time-out” to give yourself some time each day to relax. Take a few minutes to lie down on your bed, stretch, listen to your favorite song, pet your cat, or take a warm bath.

Live in the Present

In stressful times, anxiety comes in the form of worry about the future. A problem arises when your worries about a few weeks or years from now consume your entire world. Make it a point to learn how to live in the present.

When you catch yourself worried about your future car payments or whether you’ll get that job, pause and bring yourself back to the present moment. Remind yourself that you cannot control the future and ask yourself what you can do right now.

Do Things That Make You Happy

You might spend so much of your time trying to make others happy that you often leave yourself on the backburner. You need to make a priority of taking care of yourself, too, and do something that truly makes you smile and laugh. That can be something as simple as watching your favorite movie or sitting on a park bench and enjoying the breeze. If making others happy truly makes you happy, use your anxiety during this stressful time to treat others to something like ice cream or a massage.

Practice Deep Breathing

When you’re stressed out and anxious, it feels like you’re always on the go trying to get things done. But when was the last time you took a second to just breathe? The University of Michigan suggests breathing exercises.

You can do something as simple as lying on your back and practicing belly breathing for a few minutes. Or you can get into true stress relief mode by doing a 4-7-8 breathing technique to really calm your body and mind.

Keep Yourself Busy

Anxiety isn’t something that you can just meditate away in a period of a few minutes. One of the best ways to get your mind off of your persistent thoughts and the stressful times is by keeping yourself busy.

Limit your time availability for worry as much as possible by filling up your schedule with things like exercise, going for a walk, creating a scrapbook, or learning origami. You don’t always have to do something that requires a lot of thought, just something that keeps your mind active.

Other Ideas

The good thing about relieving stress and anxiety is that there isn’t one guaranteed method.

If the list above wasn’t inclusive enough, here are a few other ideas:

  • Perform rigorous physical activity – exercise helps burn off anxious feelings.
  • Paint, draw, write, or learn to play an instrument.
  • Call up your best friend or close family members.
  • Start a gratitude journal.
  • Cook or clean.
  • Go for a bike ride, kayak on the lake, or go fishing.

Anxiety is all-too common during stressful times. Fortunately, there’s plenty that you can do in order to cope with your anxiety and improve your quality of life.

  • The best thing you can do is to figure out which coping strategies work best for you and work it into your daily schedule.

Focusing on Bright Spots and Avoiding the Landmines

  • When there appears to have been so much loss and devastation during this period, it can seem nearly impossible to find anything to smile about. However, it is so vital that we make every effort to focus on bright spots in the midst of all this.

There are specific benefits linked to an intentional focus on positivity and bright spots in the midst of chaos and trauma.

The Benefits

Decreased Stress

Individuals who think positively and pursue peace and joy are found to cope more effectively with stressful situations than their pessimistic counterparts. One study found that optimists who encountered disappointment were more likely to focus on things that were within their control. In choosing not to dwell on their frustrations and things they could not alter, they were more effectively able to create a plan to aid them during the situation.

Meanwhile, pessimists in the study jumped to the conclusion that nothing could be done and therefore experienced more frustration and less positive outcomes (Cherry, 2020).

Enhanced Wellness

An increase in overall health and wellness is another benefit of intentional positivity. Such optimism is linked to a better ability to cope with stress which ultimately results in a better outcome for the body.

Research from The Mayo Clinic has shown benefits such as a reduced risk of death from cardiovascular problems, increased lifespan, and decreased depression all to be linked to optimism.

Some evidence suggests that these links are because optimism reduces stress, which prevents the harmful stress hormone cortisol from being released within the body, thereby preventing the harmful effects in the body that long-term exposure to cortisol can cause.

Other evidence shows that positive thinking leads to healthier lifestyles which help people stay away from unhealthy coping mechanisms and engage instead in behaviors and practices that are going to improve overall health and wellness (Cherry, 2020).

Increased Immunity

Research in recent years has linked enhanced immunity to positive thinking. Researchers in one study found that activation in areas of the brain associated with negative emotions led to a weaker immune response to the flu vaccine.

In another study by researchers at Segerstrom and Sephton, it was found that those identified as optimistic about specific and significant parts of their lives displayed a much stronger immune response than their counterparts who possessed a negative view of the situation (Cherry, 2020).

Resilience

Resilience is a final and important benefit between an intentional focus on positivity, particularly during a season like this one. After what has been a worldwide trauma, the ability to bounce back is vital to reestablishing life when all of this has passed.

Resilient people can face crisis and trauma with a strength that allows them to overcome adversity and use it as a building block towards future growth and success.

The way we think – specifically optimism – can play a huge role in the development of resilience. Research has shown that positive thoughts and emotions in the midst of a crisis encourage thriving and act as a buffer against depression, which builds resilience.

Additionally, taking the time to foster positive emotions during a crisis can aid in stress management, decreased depression, and the development of critical coping skills that help people overcome future challenges (Cherry, 2020).

Foster the Right Mindset

  • In order to foster a mindset that is able to focus on the bright spots and avoid the landmines, you must first be mindful of your triggers.

When you know the things that bring on negative thoughts and emotions, you can take steps to prevent them from occurring, or at the very least to limit their negative impact. Then measures can be taken that allow for the pursuit of more positive things that bring about joy, peace, and serenity in your life.

This intentional pivot will regularly help you to refocus your thoughts, emotions, and therefore your behaviors, towards those things that uplift you instead of leading you towards things that will weigh you down.


Setting Appropriate Boundaries with Yourself and Others

In general, boundaries are an important part of a healthy lifestyle and dynamic. They are an important part of maintaining mental health, preventing stress, and preventing exhaustion or over-extension.

  • During the pandemic, setting boundaries is an essential part of maintaining emotional health and wellness.

Failing to do so can leave us drained, stressed, anxious, depressed, frustrated, and resorting to unhealthy behaviors as a means of coping. Thus, learning to set firm boundaries during this time is part of a wise wellness strategy.

Setting Your Boundaries

In order to set boundaries, you need to know what those boundaries are. This requires a high level of self-awareness so that you can learn what you are/are not comfortable with, what you do/do not want to do, and what you can/cannot handle.

Examples of Pandemic Related Boundaries

  • Limiting how much news you watch.
  • Limiting how much you discuss the coronavirus with friends or family.
  • Saying no as needed for your own self-care.

Once you have a firm understanding of your boundaries, you are then equipped to establish those boundaries for yourself and communicate those boundaries to others.

  • When it comes to setting boundaries for yourself, that may mean implementing a routine or having accountability partners to ensure you are holding steadfast to the boundaries you have decided on.
  • When it comes to others, it means being clear about what your limits are and how you feel, and then sticking to those boundaries even in the midst of opposition or push back. It can also be beneficial when dealing with others to have certain people in your life who can support you as you set these boundaries and again check in with you to ensure you are honoring the boundaries you have established with others (Cohen, 2020).

Make a Plan

It’s also important to have a plan in case you overstep the boundaries you’ve set or if you’re in a situation where someone else is trying to overstep the boundaries you have communicated.

  • For yourself, this may look like going to your accountability partner and informing them of the situation and then together devising a plan for how you can better commit to those goals. This is important because sometimes making a mistake can act as a discouragement and may tempt us to just give up or fall off track.
  • When it comes to other people attempting to disrespect the boundaries we are setting, the plan may look like creating distance between yourself and this person so that you can stay true to what you intended to do (Cohen, 2020).

Maintaining a Logical Perspective

Although there are a lot of unknowns that exist during this time that can drive us crazy, it is possible and valuable for us to maintain a logical perspective.

  • Simply put, logical thinking is the ability to see the implications of decisions being made or the ability to see the implications of a situation beyond the present moment in time.

This skill can be extremely beneficial, especially during times of great chaos, because it promotes active learning and sharpens decision-making skills.

Strong logical reasoning skills can also help with self-regulation, thereby helping you to better manage emotions and behaviors during times of distress.

This works to combat impulsivity, enhance complex problem-solving, and improve one’s ability to remain calm amidst chaos, all of which can be particularly useful during this time (Thinkers Box, 2013).

3 Ways to Foster a Logical Perspective

Thankfully, a logical perspective is something that can be fostered via various strategies.

  1. One of the best ways to do this is to challenge your own perspective. This means intentionally seeking out information or viewpoints that differ from your own. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to or will agree with the new perspective, it simply causes you to think critically so that you can view something from all sides and draw a conclusion based on well-rounded viewpoints and a broad spectrum of information.
  2. Another useful strategy is to assess how much of your perspective is emotion-informed versus information-informed. While our emotions are valid, they can sometimes cloud our logic and reason. If we can identify a large portion of our perspective that is informed by our emotions, we’ll likely find some errors or flaws. Meanwhile, those things rooted solely or primarily in data and facts will tend to lead to more solid judgments and decision-making in the end.
  3. A final strategy is to simply take a pause before acting. Being too quick to act can lead to an error because we have not taken adequate time to consider all options or possibilities. Sometimes when we simply pause and take a moment to reflect, we can see another perspective, consider another viewpoint, or see another side that can help us make a better decision in the end (Zivanovic, 2019).

Counteract Fear with Reality

  • To maintain a logical perspective, fear must be kept in check by counteracting it with reality.

Fear thrives by causing us to consider all the worst-case and what-if scenarios, many of which seldom come true. Staying grounded in the here and now is an important way to fight against that.

  • One way reality helps us counter fear is by helping us focus on what is presently happening. Instead of a focus on what might or what could happen, we ground ourselves in what is occurring in the here and now.

The reality also helps us counter fear by helping us to focus on what we have the ability to change. Especially during a season of chaos like this, there is so much we have no control over.

However, when we focus on reality, we find those small things in our everyday lives that we can control – our immediate choices and actions and the potential impact they can have in the immediate present and in the future.

A focus on reality can also remind us of those things we have to be grateful for. Finding small things in the present we can be grateful for can ground us and keep us from hyper-focusing on the negatives, effectively reducing stress, and helping us cope with the chaos (Sen, 2012).


30 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health

There are various ways that we can implement strategies to protect our mental health, and these strategies are of great importance during such unstable times.

  • By implementing these strategies, we can reduce negative emotions, manage stress, and ground ourselves in the midst of these chaotic, fearful, and uncertain times.

↪ Establish a Routine

Routines are a strong way to protect mental health, particularly during times of chaos and uncertainty – a sequence of actions regularly followed to give us a sense of order, security, hope, meaning, and forward progress.

Routines add value during times of fear and uncertainty by acting as a type of grounding force to help us be more balanced (Finestone, 2020). By establishing predictability, routines reduce stress and anxiety and decrease fear.

↪ Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice that emphasizes awareness of thoughts, feelings, sensations as a means of gaining more insight, increasing attention, improving concentration, and enhancing self- control, among many other benefits.

The ultimate idea being that through the practice of mindfulness we can enjoy improvements in these areas and positive changes can be made to influence our attitudes and behaviors for the better.

Through mindfulness, we can reduce stress, gain greater control over our emotions, and decrease rumination which improves our mental health and our capacity to cope with fear and uncertainty during chaotic times (Davis & Hayes, 2012).

↪ Get Rest

The fact is when you’re well-rested, you’re better able to deal with stress. On the other hand, a lack of sleep leads to poor mental clarity, lack of judgment, and poor decision making.

  • Sleep helps ensure our brains function optimally so that we can respond properly to challenging circumstances.
  • Also, when we sleep, we go into a relaxed state that allows for a release of stress and tension.
  • Sleep can help us process fear and reason through negative feelings so that by the time we wake up, the fear doesn’t seem so threatening and our stress level aren’t so high (Mental Health Foundation, 2020).

↪ Eat Well

The foods we eat can either support or break down mental health. Certain foods combat the negative feelings of stress and anxiety that often arise during seasons of fear, chaos, and uncertainty.

Such foods include dark chocolate, turmeric, and chamomile, which have relaxing properties and can create a calming effect in the body.

↪ Exercise Regularly

  • A little physical activity can produce a physical response in the body that is great for protecting mental health.
  • When we engage in any kind of physical activity, there is a release of endorphins that cause an analgesic effect within the body. This means we feel calmer, less stressed, and have more mental clarity.
  • Turning to exercise during seasons of fear, chaos, and uncertainty, can help immediately calm the emotional reaction to lessen the risk of rash decisions or judgments are made (Amastein, 2020)

↪ Affirmations

Affirmations can be a very healthy way to uplift and encourage our minds and spirits during times of great turmoil and distress. Affirmations are phrases or sentences designed to influence the conscious and subconscious mind, with the ultimate effect being changes to our thought processes, habits, environments, behaviors, and actions as a result.

To be effective in combating fear during times of chaos and uncertainty, the phrases and sentences repeated should be those that speak to one’s inner strength, infuse hope, and remind one of their own power and abilities.

Examples Of Affirmations

  • This will not last forever
  • I am strong and I tap into my inner strength in times of turmoil
  • My hope is strong, it keeps me calm and grounded
  • There is nothing in the world that I cannot face

↪ Self-Care

Self-care is a good way to protect mental health on a consistent basis. Self-care is about prioritizing the protection of well-being and happiness, particularly during periods of fear, chaos, and uncertainty.

Methods of self-care can include stress management, exercise and diet, regular rest and relaxation, mindfulness meditation, and journaling.

Each of these activities and other self-care activities focus on reducing stress and anxiety by providing an outlet to release feelings so they don’t build up and escalate (Robbins, 2020).

↪ Practice Gratitude

Being grateful can serve as a powerful means of refocusing attention and energy when in the midst of a chaotic and stressful situation.

Gratitude can ground you in positive thoughts when fear and anxiety begin to overwhelm and override your mind. Gratitudes can be written or simply reflected on in times of stress to generate the mental and emotional relief needed to strengthen and protect your mental health (Amatenstein, 2020).

↪ Limit Media Consumption

Though much of the media these days is rooted in trying to disseminate information, taking in too much negative information can take a huge toll on mental health.

Limiting the amount of media we take in on a daily basis is a great way to keep ourselves sane and mentally healthy.

Whether by setting daily limits or choosing days where there is a complete absence of media consumption, setting those boundaries can go a long way for preserving peace during these times (The Optimist Daily, 2020).

↪ Seek Out Meaningful Information

A strong complement to limiting media consumption is to ensure that the information being consumed is accurate and beneficial.

Taking the time to get information that is high-quality and valid will help you make sound decisions and make judgments based on facts instead of fear or other media tactics (Parker, 2020). This will help ease fear and stress and keep fear and uncertainty at bay.

↪ Friends & Family

Reaching out for the support of our friends and family can be quite beneficial for us during times of chaos. Friends and family can provide the emotional support we need when we are feeling overwhelmed, and offer the encouragement needed to ground us and keep us from hyper-focusing on the negative situation or the negative emotions that the situation creates (Capital FM, 2020).

↪ Therapy & Counseling

Sometimes a trained professional is the best route to take to protect mental health. They can offer techniques and strategies to help manage negative emotions, while also offering emotional support and a safe judgment-free space to discuss feelings and thoughts (Capital FM, 2020).

While there may be limitations on in-person sessions, many therapists and counselors are offering virtual options during this time to accommodate people’s needs.

↪ Have a Laugh

Finding something to laugh about is another great strategy for protecting mental health. In crisis situations, we are often only surrounded by the negativity and severity of the situation at hand. Fear naturally dissipates when you are laughing.

Whether it’s reading jokes or watching a comedy or funny videos online, humor will shift focus from the stress and chaos of the situation and diffuse the fear and uncertainty, thereby giving you the peace and distance needed to help you calm down and remain grounded (Amatenstein, 2020).

↪ Spirituality

If you are a person who is spiritual or religious, tapping into that source can be a solid way to protect your mental health. Spirituality can act as a grounding force, reminding you that there is a larger entity in control and that there is something larger than self.

This can be of great significance when in a chaotic situation. When you remember that there is a greater power at work, you can find peace and manage stress/fear in a healthy way versus letting the uncertainty get the best of you (Mental Health Foundation, 2020).

↪ Breathing Techniques

Breathing is a good strategy for regaining a sense of calm in the midst of chaos. Breathing offers the opportunity to take the time to pause, refocus, and really process what is happening and what you are feeling.

Breathing can ground you and help you get to a place where you can identify the root of your fear.

Additionally, the breathing will have an immediate effect by reducing your heart rate and allowing the brain to more effectively process information so that more reasonable/rational decisions can be made (Amatenstein, 2020).

↪ Get Outside

There is something about the outdoors that has the ability to help your mental health in major ways. Going for a walk, exercising outside, or even just sitting outside exposes you to vitamin D which is linked to healthy cognitive function and reduced risk/prevention of depression.

One study found that adults with vitamin D deficiency who received high doses of the vitamin saw an improvement in their depressive symptoms in just 2 months (Bundrant, 2016).

↪ Positive Thinking

Positive thinking is a way to regain control during times of chaos and uncertainty when fear tries to dominate. Fear often works by causing people to consider the worst-case scenario.

Positive thinking is about choosing not to focus on potential negative outcomes. Rather it is about finding the current good within a situation and highlighting that. It is about a conscious pivot away from the negativity of the situation and towards a more positive focus.

By shifting your thoughts, you can shift your focus, thus grounding you mentally and creating a more stable and secure mental footing (Steimle, 2016).

↪ Listen to Music

Music can have several helpful benefits for mental health. Research has shown that music, whether listening or playing, can improve various mental health conditions including schizophrenia, depression, and trauma, all of which can be experienced or exaggerated during times of chaos.

Additionally, music can serve as a powerful medium for processing emotions such as fear or grief, as well as acting as a calming agent for anxiety and dysregulation (Capital FM, 2020).

↪ Journaling

During times of chaos and uncertainty, journaling can be a healthy grounding and calming mechanism. The University of Rochester Medical Center notes a couple of the benefits of journaling as helping to track and identify causes of stress and providing a space for you to work through negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

Thus, journaling can serve as a crucial support system allowing people to process through fear and uncertainty during chaotic times (Capital FM, 2020).

↪ Meditation

Meditation is the practice of focusing on a specific thing (breathing, body sensation, or object) as a means of developing self-awareness, inducing calm, and increasing attention.

Meditation can be used to maintain mental health by intentionally choosing to focus on something other than a chaotic situation. By regularly engaging in the practice of meditation as a means of redirecting and gaining control of your thoughts, you can manage and calm your fears, and thus manage the stress of the situation (NHS, 2020).

↪ Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques are forms of stress management that work to decrease the effects of stress on the mind and body. This can be especially useful during crisis situations where anxiety and panic can override and overwhelm.

When practiced, these techniques can improve mood, reduce stress hormones, slow breathing, decrease heart rate, and reduce frustration, all of which can be a consequence of fear.

Relaxation techniques include yoga, massage, aromatherapy, music, massage, and art, among others. These positive impacts on the body, emotions, and mind work to improve overall mental health.

↪ Art

Practicing some type of art, whether it’s painting or drawing or photography or whatever most interests you, can prove to be very beneficial for mental health.

Art offers soothing and calming benefits that help individuals deal with stress, manage negative emotions, and combat anxiety and other mental health ailments such as depression (The Optimist Daily, 2020).

It allows for methods of conceptual processing and expression that go beyond words, giving an ability to reach areas of concern that logic and facts may not be able to completely satisfy.

↪ Acceptance

A lot of the stress we feel during times of great chaos revolves around trying to maintain or restore some sort of normalcy. However, there is so much during a global crisis like this pandemic that is out of our control, and the sooner we can embrace that, the better off our mental health will be.

When we free ourselves from the burden of trying to change or fix what is out of our control, we free ourselves to focus our energies on managing things that can make a difference. This reduces our stress and frees us of the weight of bearing such a large mental and emotional – and ultimately uncarryable – burden.

↪ Sustainability Mindset

A sustainability mindset is one that focuses on the big picture, not just the right now. This type of mindset is fundamental during times like these because it helps us not to get stuck on all the bad of the present.

Instead, you can see into the positives of the distant future – the vaccines in the works, the economy eventually recovering, kids either getting back to school at some point or improvements in alternative education, and ultimately life getting better.

This mindset will help you get through the many days ahead by giving you something to look forward to in the future (The Optimist Daily, 2020).

↪ Set Boundaries

Boundaries are a crucial part of maintaining mental health. Setting boundaries means setting firm limits on what you can/will do or allow and what you can’t/won’t do or allow as a means of protecting your peace and overall wellness.

Setting boundaries can look like telling people “no” when asked to do things, turning down social invitations, staying off social media platforms, or implementing whatever other limits necessary to help keep you from getting stressed, anxious, or depressed (Power of Positivity, 2020). 

↪ Stay Mentally Active

Doing activities that will keep you mentally alert is a good way to protect mental health. Evidence supports the idea that engaging in some sort of mentally stimulating activity reduces stress responses and aids the brain in feeling calm.

Such activities include puzzles, writing, gaming, crafting, learning new things, and reading.

Such activities can also improve mood and reduce the severity of mental illness such as schizophrenia and depression, which can be extremely helpful during times of chaos and trauma (Parker, 2020).

↪ Stay Hopeful

It can be very tempting to lose faith amidst all of this chaos, but it is so important to remain hopeful if we want to maintain our mental health.

Hope gives us something to look forward to and something to hold onto in the midst of the negativity we face. When we think about the future of things getting better, we are able to find a silver lining that grounds us and helps us to stay positive.

↪ Focus On The Present

Staying in the present can sometimes be a great way to protect mental health, particularly in times of chaos and trauma such as a pandemic.

Staying in the present acts as a grounding force, keeping us focused on the now versus the uncertainties of the future. It also decreases overthinking and reduces stress (Edberg, 2020).

↪ Alone Time

There is nothing wrong with spending a little time by yourself during times such as these. Sometimes time alone can recenter and refocus you, thereby getting you away from the chaos and cause of stress long enough to return to a place of calm (Course Begin, 2020).

↪Crying

It may seem against logic to cry when trying to improve mental health, but shedding tears can be quite beneficial. Sometimes shedding some tears offers a quick emotional release for pent-up emotions that we have not been able to verbalize or vocalize another way. While acting as an emotional outlet, crying can also reduce stress and boost our overall mood.


Prevent Substance Abuse and Addiction

  • These are very high-risk times for substance abuse and addiction.

The chaos, uncertainty, and fear of this season can leave people feeling stressed and unable to cope. That can make alcohol and other substances seem like the best or only means of dealing with unpleasant thoughts and feelings.

It is important to take measures to help reduce the likelihood of resorting to addictive substances during times like these.

  • One such measure is reducing stress because stress is a powerful trigger for substance abuse. Chronic stress experienced over a prolonged period of time increases the likelihood of developing mental illnesses (depressions, etc.) which can make you more susceptible to substance abuse and addiction.

Using some of the strategies mentioned in the section 30 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health can help you find healthy ways to express and release negative feelings and deal with emotions and thoughts that might push you towards using substances as a coping mechanism. Such strategies can include exercise, journaling, meditation, and art (Nicosia, 2017).

  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is another way to support a substance-free lifestyle. When you have a regular pattern of engaging in healthy eating, exercising, relaxing, and sleeping, you are more consciously aware of your health and wellness. This heightened state of awareness makes you less likely to engage in behaviors and activities that are going to interfere with that lifestyle (Seeley, 2018).
  • Developing a concrete routine for yourself is another way to protect against substance abuse and addiction. When you have a set pattern of activities that you are consistent about sticking to, you leave less room to engage in unhealthy practices. The more structured your weeks, days, and even hours are, the less likely you are to slip into something that could harm you. Thus, create as much structure as you need to elevate your chances of success (Seeley, 2018).
  • A final strategy, and one of the most important, is to seek help if you need it. Addiction is serious and you should not try to tackle it alone. If you find yourself leaning towards a reliance on substances to cope with stress or anxiety, then reach out to friends, family, or professionals, or seek out resources to help you navigate during the difficult time. There should be no shame in reaching out for help, and doing so at the first sign of trouble can prevent a more severe slip or downfall into addiction from occurring (Nicosia, 2017).

Special Considerations for Seniors

Seniors are already at increased risk of mental health decline as they age.

  • This risk increases exponentially during times like these that are incredibly chaotic and stressful.

If they are not careful, seniors can experience an enhanced rate of cognitive impairment and an increased risk of mental health ailments, even more so than they are already at risk for.

Steps to Protect Seniors

Taking a series of specific measures can help ensure seniors are in the best position to thrive during this time in spite of the unique hardships and challenges that this season presents.    

  • The first and most significant of these measures is getting support from outside sources.

Whether this is from family, people in the neighborhood/community, or professionals, having people who can check in, provide help, and offer support is crucial during these times.

Support can look like having neighbors drop off groceries, having family members visit, or having professionals whose job it is to come to the home and check in. In instances where a senior has to be physically isolated for their own safety and health, it’s important to maintain some kind of virtual community as much as possible. Video chats, letters and cards, and pictures can be a great way of maintaining communication and continuing to stay connected to important people in the senior’s life. This can boost mood and help keep depression and negative emotions at bay.

  • A healthy lifestyle is another key consideration.

Eating well, getting regular exercise, staying mentally engaged, and getting proper amounts of rest will do a lot to help seniors stay well mentally.

As previously mentioned, each of these measures has protective benefits for mental health. They can reduce stress, combat feelings of anxiety, and boost overall mood, among other things.


Reaching Out for Help is Key

  • Do not be afraid to reach out for help during these times.

When we are experiencing a crisis, it can be tempting to isolate because of shame or concern for ourselves or others. But whether it is to help cope with our feelings or help actually dealing with some of the stress and challenges of these times, reaching out to others to get support ensures that this situation doesn’t get the best of you and that it does not cause you to cave under the stress or make poor decisions (Steimle, 2016).

Others can provide the emotional support needed to help us process our feelings and develop coping methods so we can remain strong in the midst of the crisis.

  • Get professional help if you need it

Seek professional help at the first sign of significant mental health issues or even beforehand as a preventative measure to ensure the wellness of your mind and your overall wellness.

Nationwide Resources for Mental Health

Websites

Hotlines

  • 1-800-622-HELP (4357)
  • 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Text Lines

  • Crisis Text Line: Text “HELLO” to 741741

The Crisis Text hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the U.S. The Crisis Text Line serves anyone, in any type of crisis, connecting them with a crisis counselor who can provide support and information.

Apps

  • Moodfit
  • Smiling Mind
  • Mood Mission
  • Headspace
  • Beeja

Final Thoughts: You Can Protect Your Mental Health

  • It is absolutely possible and absolutely critical to protect your mental health during this time.

This requires intentionality and care, but it is well worth the time and energy invested.

When you take measures to protect your mental health you will reap the benefits mentally, emotionally, and physically. Such measures include preventative steps such as awareness about the signs of mental/emotional decline and signs of depressive symptoms, daily maintenance such maintaining a logical perspective, setting boundaries, and focusing on bright spots, and then taking measures in times of need such as seeking help for substance abuse and reaching out for help in times of crisis.

Each of these small steps plays a big role in ensuring your mental health stays strong and even the slightest deviation can result in the biggest decline in mental health. Consistency is key to mental health and wellness during times of fear, chaos, and uncertainty.


STAY WELL AND TAKE CARE!


References:

Amatenstein, S. (2020, June 25). 6 tips to overcoming anxiety and phobias. Psycom.net – Mental Health Treatment Resource Since 1986. https://www.psycom.net/facing-your-fear/

Bhandari. (2018). Anguish and mental health. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/emotional-trauma-18/emotional-trauma-mental-health

Bundrant, M. (2016, May 31). Top three mental health benefits of vitamin D. Psych Central.com. https://blogs.psychcentral.com/nlp/2016/05/top-three-mental-health-benefits-of-vitamin-d

Capital FM. (2020, June 5). Black Lives Matter: 15 ways to protect your mental health. Capital. https://www.capitalfm.com/news/black-lives-matter/mental-health-support-uk/

Cherry, K. (2020, June). How can positive thinking benefit your mind and body? Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/benefits-of-positive-thinking-2794767

Cleveland Clinic. (2020, April 28). The lasting effects of childhood trauma. Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/childhood-traumas-lasting-effects-on-mental-and-physical-health/

Cohen, I. (2020). Setting Boundaries During Coronavirus. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-emotional-meter/202007/setting-boundaries-during-coronavirus

Course Begin. (2020, May 13). 7 ways to protect your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic. CourseBegin. https://coursebegin.com/home/coronavirus-mental-health-protection/

Davis, & Hayes. (2012). What are the benefits of mindfulness? https://www.apa.org. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner

Edberg. (2020, May 19). 7 awesome reasons to be present, and how to do it. The Positivity Blog. https://www.positivityblog.com/7-awesome-reasons-to-be-present-and-how-to-do-it/

Edmonds, M. (2010, April 6). What are the effects of isolation in the mind? HowStuffWorks. https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/emotions/isolation-effects.htm

Mayo Clinic. (2018, February 3). Depression (major depressive disorder) – Symptoms and causes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20356007

Mayo Clinic. (2020, April 18). Relaxation techniques: Try these steps to reduce stress. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/relaxation-technique/art-20045368

Mental Health Foundation. (2020, April 30). How to overcome fear and anxiety. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/overcome-fear-anxiety

NHS. (2020). Ten ways to fight your fears. NHS inform – Scottish health information you can trust | NHS inform. https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/mental-wellbeing/fears-and-phobias/ten-ways-to-fight-your-fears

Nicosia, C. (2017, August 18). Ways to prevent drug abuse | How to prevent substance abuse in youths. BetterAddictionCare. https://betteraddictioncare.com/2017/08/ways-to-prevent-drug-abuse/

The Optimist Daily. (2020, July 26). 20 ways to protect your mental health, according to modern science. The Optimist Daily: Making Solutions the News. https://www.optimistdaily.com/2020/07/20-ways-to-protect-your-mental-health-according-to-modern-science/

Parker, C. (2020, March 14). 14 ways to protect your mental health in the pandemic, according to public health England. World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/14-ways-to-protect-your-mental-health-in-the-pandemic-according-to-public-health-england/

Peterson, T. J., & NCC. (2017, December 20). Does uncertainty cause your anxiety and worry? Mental Health Support, Resources & Information | HealthyPlace. https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2017/12/is-uncertainty-causing-your-anxiety-and-worry

Power of Positivity. (2016, September 30). 4 signs someone is suffering from emotional distress. Power of Positivity: Positive Thinking & Attitude. https://www.powerofpositivity.com/emotional-distress/

Power of Positivity. (2020, June 25). 9 ways to set boundaries to protect your mental health. Power of Positivity: Positive Thinking & Attitude. https://www.powerofpositivity.com/set-boundaries-protect-mental-health/

Robbins, T. (2020, March 13). 8 strategies to stop living in fear and enjoy life | Tony Robbins. tonyrobbins.com. https://www.tonyrobbins.com/mind-meaning/how-to-use-fear/

Robinson, S., & The Conversation. (2019). Isolation has profoundly creepy effects on the human body and brain. Here’s what happens. ScienceAlert. https://www.sciencealert.com/isolation-has-profound-effects-on-the-human-body-and-brain-here-s-what-happens

Rosenberg, J. (2017, November). The effects of chronic fear on a person’s health. AJMC. https://www.ajmc.com/conferences/nei-2017/the-effects-of-chronic-fear-on-a-persons-health

Seeley, K. (2018, July 8). 5 steps to stop drug addiction before it starts. World of Psychology. https://psychcentral.com/blog/5-steps-to-stop-drug-addiction-before-it-starts/

Sen. (2012). Overcoming fear through understanding reality. Calm Down Mind. https://www.calmdownmind.com/overcoming-fear-through-understanding-reality/

Steimle, J. (2016, January 12). 14 ways to conquer fear. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/joshsteimle/2016/01/04/14-ways-to-conquer-fear/#6eb457dc1c48

Thinkers Box. (2013, January 19). Logical reasoning and its benefits. Child Development. https://thinkersbox.com/logical-reasoning-and-its-benefits/#close-modal

Wan, W. (2020, May 4). The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/05/04/mental-health-coronavirus/

William C. Shiel Jr. (2020, July 31). Depression: Symptoms, signs, causes & treatment. MedicineNet. https://www.medicinenet.com/depression/symptoms.htm

Wu, D. (2020, March). The impacts of uncertainty stress on mental disorders of Chinese college students: Evidence from a nationwide study. Frontiers. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00243/full

Zivanovic, V. (2019, October 31). What is logical thinking and how to strengthen it. Lifehack. https://www.lifehack.org/594032/logical-thinking







Disclosure Notice: This site participates in Affiliate Programs, which means that we may receive some revenue for purchases made through links here. This revenue helps us to keep supplying free and low-cost content for people in need.