COVID-19 has claimed millions of lives around the world and has changed the ways in which we all relate to and navigate the world in which we live. As well as the concerns around the physical impact of the pandemic and the way its affected young people’s education there has also been a huge impact on people’s mental health.
The Princes Trust (2021) highlight how the pandemic has taken a ‘devastating toll’ on young people’s mental health, with significantly more young people likely to feel anxious and depressed. It was found that 1 in 4 young people admit they feel unable to cope with life since the start of the pandemic. I think it’s important to note that to a certain extent it’s completely natural for our mental health to be declining as we’re encountering a global collective trauma from the pandemic. But, that doesn’t mean it’s not important and I want you to know that you’re not alone if you feel like this.
So, let’s talk about how we can better manage our mental health with everything that’s going on. It’s no secret that we all experience stress to some degree and in light of the current situation with COVID-19 your stress levels may have increased. Some stress can be good; it can push us to work harder. But too much stress can make us feel overwhelmed, and prolonged stress can eventually lead to problems. The ‘stress bucket’ is a way to visualise this.
Picture a bucket, above the bucket are clouds – the things that cause you stress. These rain into the bucket and gradually fill it up. You release the stress (through holes in the bucket called taps) by doing things you enjoy or that help you to stress less. What things cause you to stress and what are some of the things you do to manage them? What size and shape is your stress bucket? How full is it? What are the signs that your bucket is getting too full? Are all of your taps working? Do you turn to unhealthy ways to release stress and, if so, what does this look like?
We fill the bucket every day with the stresses we’re facing and the bucket quickly fills up. If we have no way of coping with these stresses the bucket overflows, leading to us feeling overwhelmed. Coping strategies put holes in our buckets which let out some of the stress. Keeping that in mind, what can you do to help yourself stay mentally well? I think the biggest thing is self-care. Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup’ and thought it was fitting? That’s because self-care is so important. If you’re already depleted by physical and emotional exhaustion, you’re less able to handle the stresses that may come your way. When you’re at your best, you become more resilient and able to appropriately manage stress. Here are three other reasons why self-care is important:
(1) Self-care can improve your physical health – while a healthy diet and exercise form the backbone of good physical health, self-care can trigger the relaxation response. Relaxation, in turn, can improve energy levels and prevent chronic stress from further damaging your health. How often do you take time out to relax?
(2) Self-care can also boost your emotional health – your emotional needs are just as important as your physical health. Having a solid mind-body connection can make you feel good about yourself and your life, which contributes to long-term feelings of well-being. Valuing yourself is one of the best things you can do through self-care. How often do you look in the mirror and try and say one positive thing about yourself or your body?
(3) Self-care can help you nurture others – if you spend a solid amount of time taking care of family members but neglecting yourself, you’re at risk of getting burned out from constantly giving. It can be more difficult to care for others when you’ve forgotten to nurture your own needs.
Cultivating a self-care practice can take consistent energy and time but it’s worth it. As you open yourself up to self-care, what it is, and the importance of it, it helps you to reconnect with yourself and what you really want out of your life. I actively engage in self-care by doing things like taking a bath after a long day at work and getting outdoors and being with nature. I also try and keep a daily gratitude journal where I try and think of one thing a day that I’m thankful for however big or small. This means even on bad days, which we all have, we can still think of one small thing that we’ve achieved.