When things are going well, it’s easy to put off planning for the difficult times. But this past year has reminded us that challenging events can arise without warning. Just as you prepare for storms and earthquakes, you can create a contingency plan so you’re ready to face situations that could affect your mental health. Preparation can help you manage situations more skillfully and regain your balance more quickly.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a range of impacts on people’s health and sense of well-being. Many have experienced serious mental health challenges, and there has been a sharp rise in alcohol and substance use disorders, according to Ebonie Vazquez, MD, psychiatrist, addiction medicine specialist, and regional chief of addiction medicine for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California. For others, there has been a low-grade sense of languishing and feeling of loss.
“Whatever your experience of COVID, it's been traumatic for everyone to some degree,” said Dr. Vazquez. “And I think almost everyone can benefit from getting some support and identifying the resources that can help if things start to feel overwhelming.”
If you want to keep yourself balanced and feeling well, there are some reminders and recommended actions that can help. Take some time to jot down notes as you review these ideas.
Pay attention to the specific things that keep you feeling healthy and grounded, such as getting plenty of sleep every night, eating healthy food, playing with your pets, exercising, listening to music, journaling, or spending time in nature. Find the activities that work best for you, and repeat them every day.
There is no substitute for the support of those who love and care for you. Who are the people you trust? List the names of everyone you could turn to in a time of need and make sure you have their contact information readily available. Better yet, reach out proactively and check in on them to see if they might need your support.
Write down the practices, self-care tools, and wellness resources that work best for you when you need to step back and return to center. Make it a habit to tap into one or more every day to help you navigate life’s changes and challenges.
Write down the situations and events that typically make you uncomfortable, or the triggers that make you more likely to turn to unhealthy behaviors such as misusing drugs or alcohol for relief. Although getting upset is normal, pay attention to the things that make you feel worse than usual and make it hard for you to bounce back, so you can catch yourself early.
“Although drinking or using drugs may seem to provide some initial stress relief,” said Dr. Vazquez, “in the long run, the misuse of alcohol and drugs poses serious mental and physical health risks, and can ultimately have devastating impacts on multiple areas of your life. Any mental health plan should take your personal risks of substance use disorders into account, because these conditions are on the rise and are costing lives.”
For more information, explore the FindYourWords support center.
If you are experiencing a mental health crisis or having thoughts of suicide, get immediate help by calling 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.