by Kristen McElveen, ND
Well, here we are.
This has been an incredibly stressful couple of weeks and everyone seems overwhelmed and filled with worry. People are fearful for themselves and for their families.
It seems like a whole different world to many. Some people have never felt true despair until now. Some people are very familiar with it and can’t seem to shake it.
I’m especially concerned about my fellow health practitioners. Physicians are twice as likely to commit suicide than non-physicians and female physicians have 250-400% more suicide deaths than other professions. So, dear colleagues, don’t forget these tools, either. You can’t be everything to everyone and being vulnerable is a big part of being human (check out resources here).
So, where do we go from here?
Here are some tips that can help:
Feel all the feelings
It may seem straight forward, but our feelings are there for a reason. If we don’t acknowledge them and accept them, they will never go away and suppressed feelings can potentially cause or aggravate physical symptoms. So, while it may not seem comfortable, sit with that depression, fear or anxiety and just listen to it for a minute. Just like that weird cousin at a family gathering, feelings often just want to be heard, then they will quiet down, sit in the corner and eat all the mashed potatoes.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If it really is too much to deal with on your own or with your support system of friends and family, don’t hesitate to speak with a professional. Google “(your state) mental health resources” and you may be surprised – there are so many options now, many where you can even call, text or chat right away like what we have here in NYC: NYC Well. An emotional trauma can change your brain chemistry and you may even need medication temporarily or long-term. Never ever be ashamed to at least see what your options are.
Just like talk therapy, sometimes writing down your woes can help express your feelings and help you come up with solutions. For example, if you write, “I feel hopeless and helpless. I feel like I have nothing.” Then you are addressing your feelings, acknowledging them, and then maybe you will realize that you do have something, you have a roof over your head and food in your belly, you have a computer (if you’re reading this) and friends. This can turn into gratitude, which has been proven to help with depression. In fact, many people use gratitude as a daily mental health helper – try writing down 3 things you are grateful for each night and see if it helps with your general mental state.
Meditation can also be extremely helpful for people dealing with anxiety and fear, but also with depression. Just like anything, meditation takes practice. Sometimes, I feel like I may never get quiet, and to be honest, I haven’t really been able to for weeks now, but that doesn’t stop me from trying each day. I definitely feel a difference when I don't at least try. When I have this monkey mind going on, where it doesn’t seem to shut up, I find a guided meditation is most helpful. I use Oprah and Deepak’s mediation app, where they often have free 21-day meditation challenges, but there are many to choose from.
Everyone needs to move each day. You don’t have to be a workout fanatic or walk several miles a day, just focus on moving, for at least 30 minutes. Whether it’s dancing to your favorite music or doing your favorite workout, movement, especially outdoors where you get fresh air and vitamin D from the sun, can help significantly decrease emotional discomfort. Exercise can also significantly affect your sleep as well. If you are too jazzed to get to sleep at night, make sure you are exercising early in the day.
It is often said that food is the number one abused anxiety medication while exercise is the most underutilized anti-depressant. We’re finding out even more now about how your gut bacteria can affect your mood. And you know what really affects your gut bacteria? The food you eat. Sure, you can take a good probiotic, but you also need to make sure you’re giving them the right food to eat, so what you eat is essential. Try your best to make healthy choices. If you are the type of person who doesn’t feel like eating when you are stressed, try for simple, nutrient-dense meals, like a chicken and veggie soup (bone broth helps heal the gut and therefore can support mental health). A healthy diet helps to reduce inflammation so that your body can handle the physical demands of emotional stress more effectively.
This is especially important for women with heart disease.
Stick with routine
Our adrenal glands regulate our stress hormone, cortisol. The best thing you can do for your adrenals? Stick to a routine – especially when it comes to eating and sleeping. If anything, try to go to bed and wake at the same time every day, even on weekends, for extra stress support. This will help your sleep quality as well. Use a sleep mask and earplugs if you have to.
Try energetic medicine
Energetic medicine is known for having both physical and mental/emotional effects. Different people react to energetic medicines individually, so find the one that works for you:
- Homeopathy – (the little white pellets) homeopathy can be very effective for mind-body ailments, but it can be hard to self-prescribe – always go to a licensed naturopathic doctor (ND) or homeopath to see what your remedy is.
- Acupuncture – a centuries old form of Eastern medicine, often covered by insurance.
- Flower Essences – the most popular remedy for anxiety is Rescue Remedy, which is a combo of 5 flower essences that may help with acute anxiety. It can be found in most drug stores. You can also make your own custom blend easily by reading the descriptions of each flower essence and choosing 3-5 remedies that fit your current imbalance. Find more info here.
- Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or Tapping) – a very effective tool to help with emotional distress, especially PTSD – check out my video on it here (don’t mind the pseudo-mullet and the giant shirt...this was when I had low boundaries and didn't make me-time for shopping and a haircut).
It’s important not to hermit yourself, even if you are an introvert or need alone time. Alone time is indeed important, but community is what keeps us connected. Once you lose that connection, loneliness and disconnection occurs, which only makes feelings like dread and fear seem even more intense. If you don’t have many friends (or just don’t want to hang with them right now), try taking a class or volunteering in your community - something that gets you talking to other people daily.
It’s good to stay informed and to be connected to friends and family, but when things get too dark, don’t be ashamed to take some time off. Even if it’s just for a few hours. Taking a break from comment boards and troll-patrol can help to calm the nerves just by reducing exposure. Also, it gives you time to do something positive, like move or connect with a friend, or even better…play with a furry friend.
Don’t apologize for your process
Everyone feels in their own way. No way is a wrong way or right way as long as it’s not hurting anyone else. Some people will have very specific opinions on how or why you should feel and that’s often their own shame or ego talking. You deserve to feel the way you need to and one thing that can help is to communicate your needs so that no one feels left out or jolted. For example, if you need some time alone, just say so. It’s better to say “listen, I really just need to be by myself for a bit – can I text you later?” Rather than passive-aggressively getting upset at your loved one for bothering you when it’s you who needs to communicate that you don’t want to be bothered. If you’re clear and nice about it, no one’s feelings get hurt and they don’t feel ignored and you get your alone time.
When in doubt, find your gift
When you feel the least helpful or the least hopeful and you’re not quite sure what to do or how to get involved, think about what you can give. What is your gift? My gifts are comedy, music and medicine. The comedy isn’t exactly flowing these days, so here I am giving some self-help education. I’d sing it to you too, but not everyone likes that. Some people cook – cook a meal for a loved one or a person in need. Some people knit – make scarves for the homeless or for the kids at your church. Everyone has a gift. Find yours and share it. It’s therapy for you and may likely bring joy to another.
Don’t be ashamed to experience joy when you can
Some people may even feel guilty because they laughed at something when others are feeling so down. You can’t feel bad about that. It’s all about balance. You can live a fulfilling, non-depressed life where you are able to appreciate the beauty of life and still be politically active and make a difference. Just also be conscious about the people around you. If they aren’t feeling it, try not to push the happy on them – they need to come to it when they can. But certainly don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for feeling joy in a rough time. Again, that is because of their process, and they just may not be ready to experience joy yet.
I wish I could say something super inspiring, but I’m not quite there yet myself. All I can say is, find your mantra(s), say it often, love your people (and pets), do good, find a little joy each day and keep putting one foot in front of the other until you start doing it automatically again.
You can live a healthy, even happy life while also staying part of the solution and being active in your political passions. Good mental health is having a healthy range of emotions.
Please feel free to comment below with what has helped you or if you have any questions.
Thank you for letting me share my gift – I hope it helps.