What 2020 Taught This Therapist
May is Mental Health Month and 2020 was nothing short of challenging for the world. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I saw on average 30-34 clients a week presenting with higher level of acuity. I saw an increase in depression, anxiety, OCD, low self-esteem, grief and loss, and trauma in my clients... People were struggling and had limited ability to manage their thoughts and emotions with their usual coping skills not available or not knowing how to navigate what they were thinking and/or feeling. Honestly at times it was a lot for me to manage too. Losing friends to Covid-19 was gut wrenching and finding a space to grieve while I kept working with clients on their journey of healing. As a therapist I think there is an underlying unspoken idea that we know how to take care of ourselves and not be overwhelmed... For the most part, yes... but Newsflash! We were also impacted by COVID-19 in some way... Earlier this year I had a client ask me how therapists have coped with everything last year. My initial reply was a therapeutic response of something to the effect of "it's been challenging but finding my way". After all, therapy is about my clients not me. However, the following days/week, I pondered the question of "how have I been coping" and offer these 5 skills I have made part of my daily rhythm of life.
1. Physical Outlet. If you know me, exercise has pretty much been part of my life for decades. Weight has been a struggle ALL yes ALL of my life (from being referred to as the big boned child to skinny Minnie and everything in between). I guess it’s a kinder way of saying overweight. Nevertheless, over the years, working out at gyms, dance studios, kickboxing, spinning, yoga, pilates, have been part of my daily lifestyle and within a day EVERYTHING was shut down! I was a little flustered to say the least. I came up with a self-challenge to complete 5 5ks and 10 10ks in 2020 which I did! I also started HIIT classes which gave me a crazy workout and allowed me to release and let go some of the weight from therapy sessions with my clients.
2. Social Connections. I’m sure we all remember where we were when we heard the news that restaurants, malls, movie theatres, sporting events, concert venues, amusement parks and other entertainment venues were being shut down until further notice. The closing of places forced for more intentional phone conversations with friends and loved ones. Although I am an introvert by nature, the thought of not being able to go places and see people whenever and wherever I wanted was hard to wrap my mind against. When was the last time you talked to a friend without distractions and were really present? I made it a practice to connect with family and friends throughout the week to keep a social connection.
3. Learning Something New. Years ago I heard a speaker, Dave Martin, say “My life changed the day I went from a know it all to a learn it all”. 2020 presented me with the perfect opportunity, if I was willing, to learn new things. As long as you are still breathing, each day is an opportunity to learn something new. You can focus on what you can’t do or what you can do. The choice is yours and man… did this perspective help me more than I can even tell you.
4. Church Community. My faith is something that has always been an important part of my life. I had just started working towards my Certificate in Ministry when the pandemic hit and the churches closed. Scripture says “a building does not make up a church”, and I got to experience connectedness in a different way. Grateful for my Pastor who worked to bring the word each week and created opportunities to engage in fellowship. Brene Brown says, “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” For me, being with my church family helped me feel and stay connected with others. That was food to my soul and I was able to continue my Ministry classes and connect with others.
5. Gratitude. Practicing an attitude of gratitude helped me shift my thoughts and focus on what I had to be grateful for. Please hear me, it didn’t take away the hard days and tough times, but it helped the feelings of sadness, anxiety and fear not last as long or be so intense. I invite you to try 30 days of gratitude where each morning start your day with identifying one thing you are grateful for. Write it down and then on the 30th day look over everything you have written and I guarantee you, you WILL feel better.
6. Pay it Forward. I know I said 5 but this one helped me get outside myself and do something nice for a random stranger/strangers. All around you, people need help, encouragement, or someone to believe in them. When was the last time you smiled and said hello to a stranger? Or complimented someone and really meant it, helped someone in need without them knowing, let someone go in front of you at the check-out counter, pay for someone’s meal/drink at a drive thru, or did something nice with the intent of blessing someone? Let me tell you… when I started doing this consistently last year, not only was I able to bless others, some pretty cool things happened in my life, my perspective shifted, I felt happy, thankful, and blessed as well.
These are just 6 things that the pandemic taught/reinforced for me. Feel free to comment below and I would love to hear how you practiced self-care and took care of your Mental Health during the pandemic.