The pandemic is traumatizing. There are constant updates of sickness and death rates on the news and social media, overwhelmed healthcare systems, and shortages of medical supplies. We may know someone who died from covid-19; worry about our loved ones or ourselves getting sick or dying; experience financial insecurity, and/or experience isolation and lack of safe touch.
It is especially traumatizing for people who already deal with mental health issues; survivors of abuse and trauma; kids or adults enduring abuse now; and people experiencing loss and grief, financial insecurity, pandemic-inspired racism, physical health issues or disabilities, or who are on the front lines. And we know trauma affects the brain. Yet people are being shamed for not being productive, or for how they are coping.
The pandemic, resulting isolation, and the social pressure to be productive and “okay” has increased my own anxiety and depression, triggered abuse and trauma memories, and left me struggling at times to focus and get work done, or overwhelmed me. So many sensitive, creative, and intelligent people I know are experiencing the same. But social media can be a powerful way to connect with others and make positive change. I was reminded of this by Padma Venkatraman #AuthorsTogether.
Let’s change the conversation from shaming people and denying the impact of the pandemic on mental health to awareness and acceptance.
Let’s remind each other this Thursday, April 23 on social media to #ShieldYourMentalHealth and that there is #NoShameInCoping, and to #ReachOutToConnect.
Let’s use the hashtags to remind each other that it’s okay to cope however you are coping (as long as it doesn’t hurt you or anyone else), that you are not alone if you are feeling stressed, anxious, helpless, exhausted, depressed, or overwhelmed, and that it’s okay to protect your mental health, to turn off updates on the pandemic, checking in when you want to. Let’s remind ourselves to reach out to others, and to check in on the ones we love. Connection is so important.
There is so much pressure on social media to be extra productive during this pandemic—that we should come out of this having learned a new skill or language, taken a new course, written or painted a masterpiece, gotten ourselves fit or lost weight, or accomplished even more work than usual—and that if we haven’t we are somehow lazy or wasting our time. This ignores how the pandemic is traumatizing for so many people, how trauma affects people, and how people are struggling, as well as how it affects people already living with mental health issues, or the reality of parents working from home. It ignores the impact of fear, anxiety, and depression—which can often lead to increased lack of focus and concentration, and increased exhaustion.
I’ve also seen people deny my or other’s anxiety, depression, fear, or exhaustion, and even deny the reality of the pandemic. This is invalidating and not helpful, and can actually increase anxiety or depression, or endanger health. And there is a push to stay educated about the pandemic—which I agree with—but a constant onslaught of news or information can be overwhelming.
Isolation can also negatively affect us. As human beings we need other people. We need social interaction, safe touch, positive interactions—even if we’re introverts. There have been many studies done on the need for safe touch, and how a lack of it can increase depression, loneliness, stress, lack of sleep, and affect our mental and physical health. Social isolation is especially hard on people living alone; the elderly; people with mental health issues, trauma histories, in abusive relationships, or LGBTQ kids/teens with homophobic parents.
A lot of people are also experiencing sleep deprivation, or interrupted sleep or nightmares from anxiety and the pandemic. Sleep is important not only for our immune systems, but also for our mental health and wellbeing. And yet the pressure to produce or to be okay keeps coming at us.
I am calling on fellow survivors and mental health warriors and those who love us. Calling on fellow authors who write about mental health or abuse and trauma. Please let others know it’s okay to #ShieldYourMentalHealth and know that there is #NoShameInCoping however you need to, and that it can help to #ReachOutToConnect. Please share a sentence or two on how you are doing this or why it’s important, using one or more of these hashtags on social media.
Let others know it’s okay not to be productive right now, it’s okay to be gentle with themselves and protect their mental health. It’s okay to turn off the news or take a break from it. It’s okay to escape from reality into books, movies, music, or do whatever you need (as long as it doesn’t hurt you or others). And that it’s a good idea to keep reaching out to others, to connect in some way and break the isolation.
I’m joined by fellow authors, educators, survivors, and mental health warriors and the people who support us, including #YAlit and #kidlit authors Ellen Hopkins, Martha Brockenbrough, Laurie Stolarz, Brigid Kemmerer, Debbie Ridpath Ohi, Peter H Reynolds, Catherine Ryan Hyde, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Jennfier Brown, Jody Feldman, Dawn Kurtagich, G.D. Cribbs, Erin Thomas, Janet Gurtler, Jennifer Walkup, Alma Fullerton, Bev Katz Rosenbaum, Karleen Bradford, Kathy Doherty, Diana Peterfreund, Erin Dionne, Charles de Lint, Patty Blount, Kim Baccellia, Liza Wiemer, Amanda Sun, C. Lee McKenzie, Karen Krossing, Shari Maurer, Jessica Burkhart, Jodi Moore, Nina Berry, Annette Curtis Klause, Sarah Johnson, Kevin T Craig, Ishta Mercurio, Melanie Fishbane, Beth Fehlbaum, Christine Fonseca, Jess Capelle, Gae Polisner, Sylvia McNicoll, Nicole Valentine, Kimberly J. Sabatini, Melanie Florence, Trudee Romanek, N.J. Simmons, Kimberly Pauley, Angela Ackerman, Selene Castrovilla, Tara Lazar, Carrie Firestone, Christine Taylor-Butler, Heather T. Smith, Sharon Jennings, Brenda Baumgartner Stanley, Lydia Kang, Cyn Balog, S. A. Larsen, Carol Matas, Bill Konigsberg, Teresa Toten, Lynn Miller-Lachmann, Andrew Smith, Demetra Brodsky, Brent Hartinger, Sarah Darer Littman, Rysa Walker, Alison Lohans, Vikki VanSickle, Mara Purnhagen, Deb Loughead, Jennifer Mook-Sang, Mimi Cross, Tamara Ireland Stone, Tracy Banghart, Adrienne Kress, Danika Stone, Chris Crutcher, publishing industry professionals Julie Powers Gallagher, Jennifer Wills, Harold Underdown, Emma D Dryden, drydenbks LLC, educators and/or journalists, Claudia Swisher, Ruth Ebenstein, therapist Jo-Anne Beggs, and more!
If you’re an author, publishing industry professional, mental health advocate, or educator, and would like to take part and have your name here, just email me at Cheryl (at) CherylRainfield.com, or private message me on social media, and I will add you in.
I hope you’ll join us in using the hashtags. Share this post with others. Tag friends. And connect with us online.
You may also want to check out an online YAlit panel Basketcases this Thursday that deals with mental health and the pandemic, featuring Gwenda Bond, Margaret Stohl, Lauren Myracle, Bill Konigsberg, Romina Garber, and Maggie Tokuda-Hall.
What can you do to cope?
- Turn off the news. Update yourself in small increments so you don’t get overwhelmed.
- If you’re quarantined with someone you feel safe with—a person or a pet—make sure you hug them. If not, try hugging a stuffed animal, or even a pillow. Or visualize someone you love hugging you.
- If you’re struggling to get good sleep, make sure you turn off your screens at least an hour before bed. Try reading or listening to an audiobook before you turn in. In bed, imagine each of your muscles relaxing, from your toes to your forehead. Try supplements like magnesium (I use Natural Calm) or melatonin for sleep, or have something warm to drink.
- Connect with others. Video chat with your friends and loved ones, email, call, and text them. Make sure you talk to someone every day. Connection is so important, and can uplift you.
- If you’re quarantined with others, make sure you get some time alone, some you time where you can unwind.
- Go for a walk or a run outside, keeping social distance. Just being outside with the sun (or wind or rain or snow) can help, and so can the exercise. Practice yoga, stretching, etc.
- Meditate or try mindfulness. Even 5 minutes can help.
- Use positive distraction. Listen to uplifting music, read a book, watch a show or movie. Make a craft, paint, write, or dance. Sing. Keeping your mind and hands busy can lessen anxiety. If you struggle to make something, think about making a gift for someone.
- Find small ways to help others. This can not only help them but also help you, by giving you meaning and lifting your mood. You could donate money or food to a food bank or organization doing good; sew masks for people who need it; read a book to a child through video; buy a book from an indie bookstore; check in on friends and loved ones; express your appreciation to medical and essential workers; etc.
- It can also help to develop tragic optimism—a term coined by Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist—to find hope and meaning despite inescapable pain, loss and suffering. This doesn’t mean denying trauma or the negative that is happening, but acknowledging the trauma, feeling it, while managing to find small bits of good, such as witnessing people helping each other, or appreciating life more. But if you can’t do that, that’s okay, too! Remember—whatever helps you right now, whatever you need to do to cope, as long as it doesn’t hurt you or anyone else, is a good thing.
Let’s get through this together with as much mental health as we can.
Love, Cheryl Rainfield