There’s good news and bad news. First the bad news. COVID-19 is infecting our brains. Even if you don’t test positive for the virus, it’s making us all, even the uninfected, mentally sick. It’s safe to say the mental infection rate is nearly one hundred percent.
Our mental health depends on three primary areas: strong social networks to prevent social isolation, strong personal connection to fight off loneliness, and strong financial health to fight off stress from money worries. This virus has attacked every single one of these areas and in major ways. Who hasn’t had their social networks, personal social connections and finances infected by this virus? Some of us are more negatively impacted than others—women, people of color, people living in poverty, and people with disabilities.
This mental health pandemic will last much longer than COVID-19. It will be with us for generations because of the trauma that is rewiring our brains as we speak and reshaping our DNA. Now is the time to put into place measures to help us recover from the mental health pandemic.
Now for the good news. We know what mental health requires of us. We know that strong social networks, personal social connections, and financial health promote mental wellness. Using this information, we can be proactive about treating this virus that infects our mental health.
Here are five key investments to make during a mental health pandemic:
1. Invest in your social networks. Being connected to peers who share our interests, hopes and dreams gives us a sense of belonging and affirms our sense of purpose. This can be a professional group, a recreational group, a recovery group or a religious group. We are wired to belong to others. Find your people and stay connected in safe and healthy ways.
2. Invest in your personal connections. We are dying alone and we are dying from loneliness. Friendships affirm our sense of self-worth and self-love. It’s hard to love ourselves when we don’t feel loved. A friend is someone who loves us. A friend is someone we love. This simple love can save us from despair.
3. Invest in financial wellbeing. Worrying about money is a huge stressor. Unemployment is at an all time high. We define our worth by how much money we make. That’s a lie. We have value no matter what. Take time to create a new budget to follow during the pandemic. What are the bare essentials? What can you make do without? How can you save money and cut down on expenses? How can our communities with surplus finances help others so that everyone has enough? There is enough if we share.
4. Invest in caring for your body. Moving our bodies improves our mental health. Drinking water and eating healthy food is good for the brain. Our brains need sleep. Naps are good. Be mindful of how your body feels and treat it gently. Your body is a temple. Your body is holy.
5. Invest in caring for your mind. Cultivate positive emotions to balance out the negative ones. We are filled with sadness, anger, anxiety, and fear these days. Take breaks from the news cycle. Turn off electronic devices. We can reclaim our humanity by intentionally focusing on what brings us joy, contentment, pleasure and awe. The truth is we can acknowledge despair and joy at the same time. Our mental health suffers when we are consumed by despair. Be intentional about creating time and space everyday for noticing what is good, even if it’s only the goodness of our very breath, a ray of sunlight, or a single wildflower pushing up through the concrete. Be present in the moment and let go of what you cannot control.
Remember that you are not alone. You are loved. This pandemic will not win. We will overcome despair by coming together. Our love for ourselves and for each other is what will save us. We are saved one day at a time.