2020 is a stressful year—the pain of racial injustice, the isolation of COVID-19, the fear of economic turmoil, the division of party lines. In fact, as a result of all these tense—and even traumatic—issues, mental health is on the national decline. A poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation reveals that 53 percent of Americans suffer negative mental health outcomes due to stress and worry about the current climate. If you start to notice a dip in your own mental health, the emotional healing process is available to you.
Issues such as anxiety, depression, loneliness, substance abuse, low self-esteem and residual trauma can be overwhelming. But there is a path forward to reclaim your balance and well-being. Not much about this year feels stable, but it could be just the time to start your emotional healing process. Here are some markers to guide you—both in these last few months of 2020 and beyond.
Identify the Signs of Mental and Emotional Distress
There’s no one-size-fits-all cluster of symptoms when it comes to mental health issues, but it’s useful to know the possible signs to look out for. Some of these might not be applicable, which does not make your experience less valid or serious. However, this list from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) can make it easier to recognize if your mental or emotional state is off-balance:
- Unusual eating or sleeping habits
- Lack of energy or interest in activities
- Withdrawal from relationships
- Inexplicable body aches and pains
- Numbing with behaviors or substances
- Excessive worry, shame, guilt or despair
- Thoughts of harm to yourself or others
- Increased conflict or emotional outbursts
- Difficulties with concentration
- Fear of leaving your home
Find an Exercise to Connect Both the Mind and Body
You might think of exercise mainly in terms of physical fitness, but it’s an essential practice for mental health too. A 2019 study found that 75–150 minutes of exercise per week can lower depression, anxiety, fatigue and stress, as well as boost self-esteem, emotional intelligence and brain function. That equates to 25 minutes of exercise, just three to six times per week.
To tap into this mind-body connection, find an exercise with rhythmic, intentional movements such as yoga, running, dancing, swimming or boxing. If possible, do these activities outside to include a layer of mindfulness too. Breathe in the fresh air, notice the breeze on your skin, root the soles of your feet into the earth and absorb the sights of nature.
Utilize Sensory Techniques to Ground Yourself
When your mind or emotions are in turmoil, this pressure can also be felt in the body due to a network of impulses called the nervous system. In a stressful or traumatic event, your nervous system’s sympathetic branch will react in fight-or-flight mode, explains the American Psychological Association. To combat this, you want to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which calms you down. The techniques below use all five senses to center yourself and regulate the nervous system:
- Focus on taking slow, deep breaths from your diaphragm.
- Place a hand on your chest and tune into your heartbeat.
- Notice the sounds, textures, images and smells around you.
- Listen to music or a guided meditation to soothe your thoughts.
- Scan how each body part feels and relax your tension points.
Maintain a Strong Support Network
Despite this socially distancing climate, it’s crucial to maintain stable relationships and open lines of communication with those you trust. Whether this support network includes family members, friends or even a counselor, make sure there are people in your life who will encourage and hold you accountable in the emotional healing process.
A support network helps with more than just venting. Research conducted at the Alborz University of Medical Sciences in Iran found that those with positive social connections are less anxious, stressed, insecure or depressed.
Step into Your Emotional Healing Process
If you’re overwhelmed, you don’t have to remain in this state of turmoil—you can start the emotional healing process at any time. 2020 might continue to feel tense and uncertain as these next few months wear on, but with emotional healing, you can find inner resilience, strength and a healthy frame of mind.