ways to prioritize your mental health right now

by Krystal Bick
March 18, 2020

You are not alone.

I don’t know about you, but this past week has certainly felt more like a year. So much has changed in such a seemingly short amount of time, so much so, that it’s strange to think back to just last week, or the week before that. Distant lunches and meetings, hanging out out at my local coffee shop or just a long afternoon in a usually very busy Washington Square dog park, all of it feels like a lifetime ago.

You all know how much I look forward to my daily runs — usually no more than 3 or 5 miles at a time. And while I love the health benefits of a daily cardio session, I prioritize it more so for my mental clarity than anything else — a way to declutter my very scattered brain into some semblance of order and structure. In light of everything going on, these runs have been essential for me. In more ways than I could ever imagine.

Last night, I went out for my run as usual, albeit a bit later than I normally go, with the hopes of fewer runners (and other people) being out and about. Along the way, I walked through the West Village, again, as I normally do, making for the short 5 minute neighborhood walk to the Hudson River running path. In the past, I’ve breezed past these same store fronts and restaurant lines, usually narrowly dodging quite a few patrons along the way, clusters of people and energy at practically every turn. The sounds of New York surround you here. The clink of glasses. Utensils clamoring onto a plate after someone I suspect said, “I couldn’t fit another bite!” A first date kiss at the corner, followed by soft whispers of when they’ll see each other next. And the sweet hand holding of a couple crossing the street, well past their first date, or even their 1,000th date. Notes from a tenor saxophone blast through a dimly lit doorway of a jazz club, while traffic pulses onward down 7th Avenue, the occasional “Hey, are you picking up for…?” in the black Toyota Camry with its hazards on. Your Uber has arrived. The West Village, on any given Tuesday night.

Last night though? It was deserted. More so than I’ve ever seen it during any holiday weekend, when the city normally clears out. Lights were on in most apartment windows. But the restaurants and shops where I’d normally see faces? Locked and gated up, most with a heartfelt note left on their door, sharing how much they loved their community and that they’ll see everyone soon. The usual chatter in the air was gone, in its place was a palpable silence. And the lone delivery guy, whisking past on his bike.

I pressed on, trying to take this new reality in stride. I turned a feel-good song up and made a point, for the few people I did see out on the street, to smile and tell them to have a good evening. And you know what? I was greeted with a smile and warm hello back (at our safe 6 feet distance, mind you). Sure, New Yorkers may not be singing out on their balconies anytime soon like our Italian friends, but that doesn’t mean we don’t crave our camaraderie, a sense of belonging, a sense of unity, a family amongst the city we live in. So yes, I may have been walking alone last night, but I didn’t feel alone after all. Quite the opposite, in fact.

With that in mind, I wanted to share some of the ways that I’ve been prioritizing my mental health the past week or so (running being chief among the list!) — as well as the amazing ways you guys have shared via Insta Stories last night. I think what’s most important to recognize is that this time will look differently for everyone and we’ll all undoubtedly cope in our own ways at our own pace. Above all, show yourself grace and patience. We all owe that to ourselves right now.

OUTFIT DETAILS: Cinq a Sept dress (borrowed, similar style here) // Audrey Leighton Vintage earrings

EXERCISE: Yes, I realize all our group fitness classes have been suspended, but just because you can’t go to SoulCycle, doesn’t mean you can’t get moving somehow, in your apartment or even outside for a brief walk. The main goal is to get your body in motion, whether with an at-home online fitness class (here’s a great list of apps and programs!) or with a friend for a brisk walk out in the sun. Whether we realize it now or later, our bodies (and our minds!) will be craving this physical activity and of course, Vitamin D. A lot of you mentioned yoga being your outlet, with a few folks going on to say they’ve been incorporating chanting into their routine — I just love how releasing that sounds!

THERAPY: I received a few DMs from the practicing therapists amongst my audience and I felt like this would be a good reminder for everyone to check with their current therapist to see if they’re offering online sessions or scheduled phone calls. If you don’t have a current doctor/therapist/counselor, I’d highly recommend asking around your contact network (of friends and your insurance) to see what doctors are currently taking new patients and be sure to remember, you don’t have to find the perfect fit right away. The right connection with a therapist takes time, several sessions and sometimes trial and error with different doctors (perhaps this is a topic for another day), but the important thing is to remember to share and to talk things over with someone, even if you don’t see that same doctor next week.

Of course, I just want to stress, if you are currently struggling, there is always help available and there is no shame in asking for it. I repeat, NO SHAME. For immediate assistance and guidance, please head here for a list of resources. And remember, we’re all in this together — you are certainly NOT alone.

MEDITATION: Given how much of our days will be spent at home in the coming days, I think it’s important to set aside specific time for you and JUST you. Your thoughts and you. Whether you practice for 5 minutes a day or 25 is beside the point — try to structure it at the same time every day so it becomes a natural part of your routine, like making coffee. Generally speaking, I sit for about 5 minutes after making my coffee, with no distractions, just to meditate and focus on the things that I’m grateful for.

GET FRESH AIR EVERY DAY: You all stressed this a TON — get some fresh air at least every day. A quick 1o minute walk does wonders. And if you can, try opening your windows while you’re working. We currently have a pair of busy birds outside out window making a nest in the large tree that usually shades the courtyard below. It’s been so nice listening to them tweet throughout the day.

 

LAUGHTER: Let’s face it, we all could use more excuses than usual to laugh these days. Allow yourself the freedom to find humor in things again — indulge in funny movies, shows, books, play games to get your mind off things.

SET UP BOUNDARIES: I have to say, this is my top priority right now. I’ve set up a strict limit of general news consumption to a handful of recap emails and The New York Times The Daily podcast episode every morning but past that, I try not to get too sucked into the circuit of headlines throughout the day (unless a huge announcement comes through). This also applies to social media, where I think a lot of well-intentioned people are throwing everything and anything up on their channels right now, which collectively can overwhelm even the most resolute of folks. Trust your gut, if something or someone is making you feel badly about yourself or your ability to contribute at this time, just remember it’s OK to distance yourself and walk away.

JOURNALING: When in doubt, write things out. The goal isn’t perfection or even cohesive thoughts, but mainly to get whatever is on your chest, off of it. Not sure where to start? Try writing a paragraph or two, based off one of these writing prompts.

SNAIL MAIL: I loved that some of you suggested this! I think with all this extra time at home, this is the perfect opportunity to send an old fashioned letter via snail mail. I’m willing to bet your parents/friends will love it and you’ll feel closer because of it.

CALL A FRIEND: There’s a reason why phoning a friend is considered a lifeline — just because we’re social distancing right now, doesn’t mean you can’t catch up or vent to friends in an intimate way on the phone and via video chat. With the amount we share on our phones as it is, it’s sometimes ironic to me that we hardly ever dial up anyone anymore. In fact, my good friend Heather, who lives in London, will be dialing in for a little Friday Happy Hour and I’m so excited to hear her voice and catch up, with our own respective glasses of wine in hand. I encourage you all to set up something similar with a friend and report back!

LISTEN TO CALMING MUSIC: Here’s your starter kit on Spotify: Peaceful Piano playlist, anything by Max Richter, Agnes Obel, Piano Classics playlist, Mozart Relax playlist

CREATE: That’s right. Make something. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It doesn’t need to be grand. It doesn’t need to be shared. Ever. Draw, paint, sculpt, build, cook, bake whatever medium makes you happy. Lately, I’ve been going back through my phone for old videos from trips over the years and making minute long compilations set to calming music for obvious reasons (see above). It’s been a great way to reminisce about old memories and extremely therapeutic to edit them to music.

CUDDLE AN ANIMAL: Enough said. Let’s give those pets of our extra love and attention right now. Not so much for their sake, but our own. Don’t have a pet? I’m willing to bet a neighbor probably wouldn’t mind you taking their dog out for a walk (assuming you and your neighbor are close). If not, just know Elvis is always happy to hop on a video call with you — I’m half kidding here, but seriously, you say when, he’ll dial in.

ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL: Above all, like I stated above, this situation is unprecedented. None of us know exactly how to deal with it. Nor should we know how to deal with it. I think all we can expect of ourselves right now is to allow a whole range of emotions to crop up — some positive, some lost, some scared, some overwhelmed, some numb. And feeling those things? It’s 100% normal. Despite what you read in an Instagram caption or in the news, only YOU know how to best process the times ahead, don’t let anyone (myself included) tell you otherwise.

Do you guys have any advice you’d like to add to this list? Please let me know in the comments below! If you’re seeking more information about how to best manage stress and anxiety specifically brought on by COVID-19, I highly recommend checking out this post from the CDC.

Photos by Allie Provost

6 thoughts on “ways to prioritize your mental health right now

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