It’s been over a month since stay at home measures were put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. Whether you are staying at home alone or sheltering with loved ones, chances are you may be dealing with feelings of isolation, anxiety, despair, and/or anger. If you’re experiencing any of these feelings, please know that this is a normal response. This is a worldwide crisis affecting us all—and it can lead to unexpected emotions and difficulties.
For Black and brown people, this pandemic may also trigger prior traumas that we’ve experienced. For that reason, managing our mental and emotional needs while in isolation is crucial to our well-being.
Start by taking care of your basic needs first. Try to get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise -even a brisk daily walk will do. Create a schedule or routine – get up, make the bed, take a shower, and get dressed each day. If possible, go outside and get fresh air. There are many tools and supports that can help us find calm and manage our mental and emotional well-being while staying home.
Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment without judgment. Mindfulness practices help bring awareness to our senses, breath, body, thoughts, and/or emotions. We can practice mindful walking, eating, and movement. We tune into these experiences and observe what we are thinking, learn to sit with difficult feelings, and allow emotions to come and go like waves. Studies have shown that mindfulness can help ease depressive symptoms in Black women. Check out Rhonda V. Magee’s website for a few short mindfulness meditation practices. You can also search for “mindfulness” practices on meditation apps, like Insight Timer.
Meditation is about being present with your thoughts. It can help quiet your mind. If your mind is very busy, notice it without judgment. Approach your experience with compassion and curiosity. If you’re new to meditation, guided practices and visualizations may be helpful. Start gradually at five minutes, then work up to ten minutes, and longer. There are several apps that offer free meditation practices, including Liberate, created by and for the Black and African Diaspora.
We may not notice our breathing until we are anxious and it becomes shallow or tight. Taking deep breaths into our lungs allows us to access our parasympathetic nervous system, which helps our bodies relax. Taking 5 or 10 deep breaths can invite an ongoing sense of calm. Try breathing deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth with your lips pursed (as if blowing through a straw), then breathe in through your mouth in the same way, and out through your nose. Repeat this several times and observe how you feel. You can also try breathing in for a count of four, holding for a count of four, breathing out for a count of four, and holding for a count of four. Repeat either of these practices for 3-11 minutes if you are feeling anxious or panicky, or if you feel good and want to sustain that sense of well-being.
Telemental Health Services
Telemental health/online counseling services are allowing counselors and therapists to provide support from a distance using technology. Many private insurance providers are waiving co-pays for telehealth services during the COVID-19 crisis. Check your insurance provider’s website to determine what you are eligible for and search for a provider that offers telemental health services. If you don’t have insurance, many providers offer services on a sliding scale.
Crystal Watkins, LPC and owner of Breakthrough Counseling, reminds us that it’s okay to take care of ourselves. She recommends making a daily to-do list with three items—including one that we do for ourselves like taking a nap, going for a walk, or reading a chapter of a book. She also recommends setting boundaries. If your family wants you to join a five-hour Zoom call, or someone wants to be your quarantine buddy, you can say no. Remember, you are putting yourself at risk if you go into someone’s home or they come into your home and you aren’t staying under the same roof all the time. Watkins says, “No one’s feelings are more important than your health.”
Even if you are feeling well, chances are you may have a day (or days) where you feel anxious or overwhelmed. After the crisis is over, you may experience some post-traumatic stress. Please know that there are supports and resources available and that we are all in this together. Now is the time to rely on the knowledge of our ancestors and call on them for strength and wisdom. They overcame several traumas and survived—we will as well.