It’s been one hell of a decade so far. In little more than two years, we’ve dealt with a pandemic and now a land war in Europe for the first time in almost eighty years. Add to that the major political instability we’ve witnessed in recent times (Brexit and Trump’s presidency, to note just two examples), climate disasters that are increasing in frequency and severity, and the widespread discontent with inequality as we reckon with the racism and sexism that is inherent in many of our organisations. It’s a lot.
Many of us are struggling with our mental health as a result. Indeed, it feels like it’s one thing after another right now, with so much unfairness, so much anger, in the world. Thanks to social media and the Internet, we’re also connected to the suffering and injustices in a way that wasn’t possible just a generation ago… which in many ways can be useful. But this connection also means we’re constantly bombarded with images of the worst aspects of reality - things we’re often helpless to change.
This can prompt anxiety or depression - in fact, instances of both have increased by more than 25% across the globe since the start of 2020. Alternatively, some people withdraw completely when times get tough - sometimes to the extent that they are unable to participate fully in society or perceive it accurately. Some research goes as far as to link the high rates of conspiracy theories about covid-19 and its vaccinations with individuals with high levels of dissociation.
The thing is, despite everything going on (and going wrong) in the world, we owe it to ourselves to take care of our mental health. Not only that, but it’s only by looking after ourselves that we can take action - on whatever scale we can.
We asked our community of psychology professionals and enthusiasts for some advice. We put to them the following question:
In times of great distress and instability, how do you look after your mental health / how do you help your clients look after their mental health?
Here’s what they had to say about taking care of your mental health, even in tough times:
- Try to be present in your current reality, savouring the small things such as a sunny spring morning or a delicious coffee.
- Connect with others as frequently as possible - ideally in person, but also online and even via mediums like podcasts or the radio.
- Give service to others - can you volunteer somewhere or lend a helping hand to a stranger?
- Slow down and act with intention.
- Remember to breathe (come along to our weekly Breathwork sessions to carve out some time for this or if you’d like to learn techniques for using your breath to calm yourself down).
- Keep your usual routines as much as possible (i.e. for sleeping, eating, working and exercising).
- Consume less news - ideally cutting down to once per day (or even week) - and choose a source that is less sensationalist, such as The Economist or Tortoise media. Perhaps it’s also worth cutting back on social media too.
- Try to make peace with the fact that some things are out of your control. Not easy, particularly when things seem so unfair, but important for your sanity!
- Focus on the things you can control - and channel that upset and rage into making a difference in your small corner of the world, by helping those around you. Check out this great comic that one of our members recommended which demonstrates this perfectly.
- Make time for things that sustain and replenish you; for instance, engaging in hobbies and activities you enjoy, seeing your loved ones, moving your body. Allowing yourself to dissociate temporarily in this way is necessary to avoid overwhelm (just remember to only let it be temporary, as too much dissociation can become avoidance - which is problematic too).
- Attend protests / support groups - engaging with people with similar values and concerns can help you feel heard and a part of something bigger.
- Remember that life is never guaranteed - even in better times there is suffering and ultimately death. This may seem like a depressing thought, but it should serve as a reminder that we need to seize each and every moment as much as we possibly can.
- And of course: talk about how you feel! This can be with a friend, family member or mental health professional, but it is so important that you have someone with whom you can share your feelings and feel supported by.
It’s a tricky time in the world and it can feel callous to prioritise your own mental health needs when we so often see others in potentially more acute and distressing situations than ourselves. Here at Stillpoint we acknowledge that tension. We have always been committed to being responsive to contemporary events in a reflective way, by creating spaces to explore them more deeply as a community. In today’s world with so many distressing concerns converging at once, this is more important than ever.
This is why your own mental health and wellbeing is so important. We all know the adage that you need to put your own oxygen mask on first before you can help others, and it remains true today. Make sure you give yourself permission to prioritise your mental health. Only by doing that will you be able to be there for others too.
Thanks to our fantastic members for your contributions to this article. If you’d like to be a part of our community for the psychologically curious and take part in similar discussions about all things psychology, mental health and culture, you can sign up here.
Alex Grunnill works for Stillpoint, and is based in London, UK. She is passionate about psychology, travelling, sustainability and linguistics. She hopes to train as a psychotherapist. You can find her on Linked In.