Keep Your Mental Health In Check! Here’s How

Find out why you should embrace negative emotions rather than deny them, to better cope with the "new normal"

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When a stressful situation comes up, it’s normal to try and avoid the source of stress, whether through denial or losing oneself in distractions. The COVID-19 lockdown, for example, also brought with it increased levels of gaming, unhealthy eating and binge-watching. But those distractions have hardly helped.

In the U.S., some 45% of respondents to a recent poll reported suffering mentally over pandemic-related worries, and online mental health platforms have reported striking increases in the number of calls or contacts made.

Is there a secret to staying mentally healthy even in this crisis? Could it all boil down to accepting the situation – instead of avoiding it? Here are a few ways you can accept today’s stressful situation, as a way to maintain your peak mental health:

Accept what you can control. You can’t control the situation – but you can control your reaction to it. You’ll go insane worrying about things that you can’t control (Quarantine! Politicians! Long grocery lines!), so learn to worry only about the things under your control (Enough food in the pantry? Your kid doing their homework? The laundry?)

“Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion… whatever are our own actions,” explains the philosopher Epictetus. “Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command… whatever are not our own actions.”

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Live in the present. Cultivate a mindful state of active, open attention on the now. Exercise mindfulness: being with your present thoughts instead of getting distracted by desires, fears, or needs.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic going on, we’ll still find our most immediate happiness in what’s going on now, in the present, in our immediate surroundings. Why borrow problems from what happened in the past, or what we fear about the future? You don’t have a time machine to change what happened – or a crystal ball to see what will.

Besides, here’s a secret – most of those worries will never come to pass. “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened,” Mark Twain is supposed to have said.

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Moderate your use of social media. There’s a strong link between heavy social media use and increased risk for depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.

Remember that social media posts are chosen to get a reaction out of you – hate, love, disgust, anger – and may not reflect reality at all!

Avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms. Smoking, overeating, watching too much Netflix – these might relieve the stress for a tiny while, but can only harm your mental being in the long run.

The billionaire heiress Christina Onassis died at age 37, after a spectacularly unhappy life. Onassis thought she could spend her way out of unhappiness: she once spent $30,000 to fly Diet Coke from America on a private plane. But whether you overspend or overeat to avoid pain, these actions don’t satisfy for long; desire for a solution only brings more suffering, not less.

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Talk to other people. And we don’t mean by PMing them on social media. If you can’t go out of the house, set a Zoom meeting, or call them over the phone – just catch up and make a human connection.

Talking to a friend or loved one can help you cope with a problem you’ve been fretting about; that conversation can help you and your companion feel less alone. If the COVID-19 pandemic feels like a burden, it will be a huge load off your shoulders to feel as if someone is sharing the weight with you.

The world is going through an unprecedented crisis. Stress and fear of what’s to come are inevitable. The key to surviving it is to take life as it comes, objectively and honestly.

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