By Michael Craig, Contributor
Stress, anxiety, and burnout are all words we use to describe negative feelings…
This can mean feeling like the world is on your shoulders, feeling like you can't seem to move or make a decision, and even feeling like any and every decision is wrong. If this describes you and you've used the words stated above to describe your feelings, then CONGRATULATIONS, you're a normal human being. The lockdowns have not been kind to the human psyche, and the increase in mental health cases is significant and concerning. In fact, the CDC said as much in August 2020.
Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during April–June of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. … Suicidal ideation was also elevated; approximately twice as many respondents reported serious consideration of suicide in the previous 30 days than did adults in the United States in 2018, referring to the previous 12 months (10.7% versus 4.3%).
The root problem comes down to isolation from social settings and normal routines that we established well before the pandemic struck. The increase in suicide and substance abuse deaths are labeled "deaths of despair." That's a pretty ominous label, right? As scary as it may appear, there are methods to overcome these feelings…methods that develop into mindsets. They have been used by elite athletes, military members, and therapists for decades now. They are simple to implement in your life and keep track of because they easily become a part of your normal routine.
A picture is worth 1000 words…especially the one used for this article. It was taken when Michael Phelps was on his way to winning his 'umpteenth' gold medal that year in the Olympics. Some people claim Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). Still, I'd point them towards Michael Phelps's trophy cabinet, displaying all that gold he's earned. Nonetheless, he is focused on the end goal, winning. He never looks anywhere besides the objective that's right in front of him. How is this important for mental health? Short answer? It's everything! Stress can be a precursor that starts the downward spiral towards significant mental health issues. Kelly Bilodeau of Harvard Health Publishing presents three simple ways to help your stress relief. It is very simple to do daily and includes finding a new approach, burning off tension, and getting organized. Okay, maybe easier said than done.
I challenge you to establish something more intimate. Personalized techniques that you can take with you and also teach others. The first is goal setting…think about what you want to achieve, why you want to achieve it, and you guessed it, when you want to achieve it. Goal setting has been shown to significantly impact motivation, which spurs focused attention, perseverance, and effort to achieve the goal. Elite athletes and special forces worldwide use this all the time as the main part of the engine that drives them forward in their daily lives. Set your goal to give you focus so when you begin to get stressed, you can fall back onto why you're doing what you're doing in the first place.
Next, and you've seen this if you watch sports long enough, is mental rehearsal (imagery). I challenge you to watch the next Olympics or world competition, and you'll see the athletes close their eyes or seemingly "zone out" before the performance or race. They are mentally rehearsing what they need to do while they're performing or racing (visualizing). They imagine being victorious and achieving the goal they set out for themselves. This is simple and you can do it every day, just like they do, and just like I do. You can also make a mental list of what you need to do and go over the order mentally, arranging the tasks you'll need to conquer first (mental rehearsal).
These tools are invaluable and come easy to some, yet can be very difficult for others. The truth is that there will always be some hurdles on the road to achieving an objective, especially if it's a long-term goal (i.e., financial stability, advanced degrees). When those hurdles block your path, the best thing to do is take a step back and avoid reacting first. Rather promote relaxation (tension control). This falls into a category called Emotional Regulation, or the management of distracting and negative thoughts and the regulation of personal attention and focus. In short, get focused back on winning and don't let the hurdles stand in your way. This can be helped along with deep breathing exercises, also known as diaphragmatic breathing or meditative exercises. The bottom line is to find what will work for you, and it will take a bit of work, but stay focused on your goal.
Although the soaring numbers of mental health emergencies and suicide-related deaths are likely side effects of the lockdowns and the significant social distancing, there is hope. However, to find this hope, you have to be willing to be an active participant and take charge of your own life, and that is real winning
You can't help others if you can't help yourself!
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