‘We Have To Be a Little Selfish’: Caring for Your Mental Health During a Global Pandemic

For those currently struggling with their mental health, navigating the holidays as well as the pandemic can be especially challenging.

Elisha Kuntner Wilkins is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist at Veritas Collaborative – a treatment center with facilities throughout North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. She has more than 20 years of experience working with children, teens, adults and families to address a variety of mental health issues.

Whether or not you’re participating in the holiday festivities this season, Wilkins said, gratitude is an important practice for strengthening your mental health all year long.

“I really see gratitude as being about showing appreciation for something or someone,” Wilkins said. “It changes the way we think and it focuses on our ability to think about what’s going well versus what’s not.”

Practicing mindfulness and focusing on the positive is the first step in changing the way we think to change the way we feel later, Wilkins said. She said there are many ways to practice gratitude, whether that’s volunteering or keeping a gratitude journal.

“A lot of what we see now in social media and in the news is that when something is seen as negative, people bring it back into 2020,” Wilkins said. “I don’t see a lot of changes in the way we think. So, for someone who is prone to feeling down, feeling depressed — especially around uncertainty — keeping a gratitude journal is a great start. It’s a way to focus on what’s going well. It’s a way to focus on the little things and finding appreciation for these things.”

Isolation caused by pandemic restrictions and changes in holiday traditions could create a perfect storm for individuals with anxiety, depression, eating disorders or other mental health issues, Wilkins said. Gratitude can help these individuals gain a more positive perspective.

Practicing gratitude can mean looking for the silver lining in events that are perceived as negative, Wilkins said.

“When we think of the word silver linings, others might think of silver benefits as opportunities,” Wilkins said. “It’s definitely a way to make lemonade out of lemons. It’s a way to grow. It’s a way to count our blessings.”

In addition to practicing gratitude, Wilkins said that self-care is very important to a person’s well-being. She said that self-care can feel like turning off your mobile phone for five minutes, setting boundaries with your family and making time for yourself.

Practicing self-care and prioritizing personal needs is an important step to promoting good mental health during stressful times, Wilkins said.

“We have to be a little selfish in order to take care of ourselves, especially for those of us who are in saving roles,” Wilkins said. “Before we can take care of someone else, we have to take care of ourselves. That old airline analogy is that you have to put your oxygen mask on first before you put it on someone else who really needs help.”

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