Mental health encompasses emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects everything from how we feel and think to how we interact with others and handle stress. Mental health issues can be caused by a variety of factors—something seemingly small like a night or two of poor sleep or something big and unexpected, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mental health is important at all stages of life and looking after it is critical. James Korman, PsyD, Chief of Behavioral Health and Wellness at Summit CityMD agrees but reminds us that, “We all experience emotional difficulties at one time or another.” He adds, “Being emotionally and mentally well is not simply the absence of a distress, but rather the ability to stay resilient, which is correlated with the ability to experience positive emotions.”
Resilience is what ultimately protects our overall well-being and defends against the stress and pressures of life that we all experience. If you are unable to tap into positive emotions and set aside negative ones, resilience is hurt and bouncing back to “normal” is more difficult.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Korman has offered several helpful strategies and tips to both patients and providers to build resilience. We’ve narrowed down his expansive list to the ones we think will best serve you!
1. Journal Three Good Things
Every day for two weeks, write down three things that went well that day within two hours of going to bed. The events can be small or large, but you must write them down and they should be specific. This repetitive exercise trains you to walk through each day looking for things that are going well and allows you to experience the positive feelings associated with those things.
2. Express Gratitude
Showing gratitude has many health benefits, and those who consistently express it tend to present with improved mood, more happiness, greater optimism, better physical health, and lower rates of stress and depression.
A good exercise for this is writing a letter of gratitude. It seems simple, but writing a letter expressing your appreciation for a person and the impact they had/have on your life can help you tap into positive feelings and increase resilience. Writing a letter disconnects you from toxic, negative emotions and shifts attention to positive ones.
Follow these steps:
Think of someone who has done something for you in a big way; this person can be alive or no longer with us, but he or she did this great thing for you simply because they wanted to. Spend the next seven minutes writing an authentic and heartfelt letter of gratitude to that person for what they had done.
Don’t worry about spelling or grammar. You do not need to send or read the letter to the person but certainly can. Seven minutes of writing a letter of gratitude has been shown to provide 6-8 weeks of benefits, but many say the benefits last far longer than this. To keep the benefits up, you can read your letter again or write another one.
3. Add the Words “Just for Now”
When stressful situations go on for long periods of time, we often forget that these events will not remain forever. Reminding ourselves of the temporary nature of stressful times helps us look beyond them and allows us to manage and cope much better. Adding the three simple words, “JUST FOR NOW”, onto the end of anything negative you may be thinking or saying, reminds you of the situation’s impermanence. For example, “I am stuck at home with little to do…just for now”, “The kids are struggling with homeschooling…just for now”, or “I can’t attend a concert or play…just for now”.
“There will always be periods of difficulty and mental distress—sadness, transition, or uncertainty,” says Dr. Korman. “But if you can strengthen the qualities that improve emotional and mental resilience now, you will be better equipped to cope with current and future challenges.”
Summit Medical Group’s Behavioral Health and Cognitive Therapy Center offers day and evening appointments—in office and via telemedicine—for a variety of emotional and situational challenges. Call (908) 277-8900 to schedule an appointment.