9 Mental Health Tips for Anyone Feeling Emotionally Pummeled by 2020

9 Mental Health Tips for Anyone Feeling Emotionally Pummeled by 2020

via Self by Anna Borges

Do you know that feeling when something completely unexpected sets you off? Like a minor inconvenience pops up and suddenly it feels like the worst thing that’s ever happened to you? And after crying or venting or tearing your hair out, you’re left wondering WTF happened—only to realize, Ohhh, that wasn’t about [insert minor inconvenience here] at all?

That’s kind of how this whole year has felt, to be honest. Each New Bad Thing—whether it’s a tiny personal mishap you’d typically take in stride or an awful news event like Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death and the Breonna Taylor ruling—seemingly carries with it the weight of all the bad things that preceded it. As a result, we’re all kind of getting emotionally pummeled. Over and over and over. And it’s exhausting.

If you’ve been feeling this way too, you’re definitely not the only one. It’s kind of just…the experience of living through 2020. “We’re experiencing the cumulative effect of so many large-scale issues and we’re experiencing them simultaneously,” Jor-El Caraballo, L.M.H.C., therapist and cofounder of Brooklyn-based therapy practice Viva Wellness, tells SELF. “Whether it’s politics or the lived reality of the pandemic or racial injustices and violence against Black bodies, we haven’t really seen any significant periods of release.”

All of that has an impact on our brains and our ability to deal. “Usually when we face a threat, we get scared, we get stressed, and we go through our responses,” clinical psychologist and author of Detox Your ThoughtsAndrea Bonior, Ph.D., tells SELF. “Hopefully, we use good coping strategies to get through, but in the very least, the threat eventually goes away and our physiological stress response can reset back to our baseline. The difference here is that we haven’t gotten to reset but everything keeps accumulating anyway.”

It all makes sense but it’s also kind of a grim picture. More than once, I’ve found myself thinking, “Okay, this is my breaking point,” but the things just keep on coming. So what do we do? While there are no five easy mental health tips for making things go right when we can’t catch a break, there are small things we can do to take care of ourselves in moments it feels like we can’t come up for air. Hopefully, some of the advice here can help, even if it’s by making you feel less alone.

1. Focus on getting enough sleep.

If you’re going to prioritize one traditional self-care strategy right now, please try to get some sleep. It may seem like a small thing, but it impacts so much. “The less sleep we get, the more hypersensitive to threat we are,” says Bonior. “We get more anxious. We view things more negatively. It’s all an evolutionary response. Back in cave-dwelling times, if you were sluggish and tired, you got eaten unless you were on your guard. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your body will view everything as a threat to protect you.”

Of course, there’s a good chance the stress and anxiety of everything are interrupting your sleep right now, so prioritizing sleep isn’t exactly easy. But it’s worth putting in extra effort to make sure your sleep is as protected as possible, whether that’s through adjusting your screen time, doubling down on pre-bed relaxation exercises, or talking to your doctor about other steps you can take. Start with these tips on getting sleep despite pandemic anxiety.

2. Don’t beat yourself up about how you “should” and “shouldn’t” feel.

More than that, if you find yourself reacting to things in a way you wouldn’t “normally,” remind yourself that things aren’t normal right now! Sure, maybe in the past you wouldn’t have responded as poorly to, say, getting in a small argument with your partner or receiving poor feedback from your boss, but hypersensitivity is an understandable result of everything going on too. “There are many things we would’ve been able to deal with just fine at our normal baseline functioning,” says Bonior. “Now we’re at a disadvantage because our reserves depleted and don’t have anything more to give. Even a bit of bad news we’d normally handle can feel like a crisis-level threat.”

3. Interrupt your catastrophic thinking.

Catastrophic thinking is typically defined by therapists as ruminating on worst-case scenarios. Think worrying that your plane will crash or that a small symptom you’re dealing with is a sign of a terminal illness. The thing is, though, during these turbulent times, catastrophic thinking hits way closer to home. Like, we’re living through a plague! Some catastrophic thinking doesn’t feel so catastrophic anymore!

Since a lot of common tools to battle catastrophic thoughts might not be as helpful right now (like fact-checking a thought and exploring worst-case scenarios head-on), Caraballo recommends trying to avoid going down the rabbit hole at all. “Find anything that can interrupt your thinking,” he says. “Notice when your thoughts start to snowball and say, ‘Okay, I’m spiraling, time to redirect myself to a game on my phone or a conversation with a friend.’”

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