How to Stay Sane in a Crazy World
To say this year has been difficult would be a vast understatement. This past week has been especially heartbreaking and once again demonstrated the significant racial inequities and poor leadership in our so-called “great” country. Then, of course, there’s the coronavirus, which has somehow worsened and is showing no signs of improving anytime soon. Add to that the worst president in American history making one horrible decision after another, and times are pretty bleak.
With so much chaos constantly transpiring, maintaining my mental health is challenging. There are days when I feel hopeless or angry or defeated or all of the above simultaneously, and I have to fight just to get through. And I’m not alone. I’ve done a few virtual recovery talks at treatment facilities I was previously admitted to, where it’s clear that everyone is struggling. Mental illness rates are at an all-time high, and it’s no surprise why.
As tempting as it is to vent about how shitty the world is right now, I thought I’d instead use this post to share some ways—tips, if you will—that I’ve been surviving these trying times and keeping my mental health in check. The first way is by not watching the news. I’m a politically-charged person who always wants to be “in the know” but at this point, tuning into one tragedy after another is causing me more harm than good. While watching the democrats win back the Senate was exciting and hopeful, that story was immediately followed by the storming of the White House, then by the rising COVID rates, then by Trump saying or doing something awful. On screen, the negatives far outweigh the positives so I’m taking a break for a bit. I’ve even unfollowed CNN on Twitter temporarily, which has made for a much less depressing timeline.
There’s a lot I don’t have control over right now, which is why something else that’s improved my mental health is focusing my energy and attention on what I do. I’m using the extra time I have from being unemployed to get ahead in my education, as well as work on new and exciting writing projects that, in addition to passing the time, give me motivation and hope for the future.
Eating well and exercising are two seemingly-simple steps that make a huge difference in my overall health and happiness. With my history of disordered eating and compulsive exercise, maintaining balance hasn’t always been easy but I’m in a place where, with a little conscious effort, it’s possible. The weather is pretty nasty in New England at the moment so I’ve found ways to get some movement indoors: yoga, cardio workouts on YouTube, and now running on the treadmill my parents bought us for the holidays (thanks, Mom and Mama).
Participating in hobbies and activities that bring me joy and distract me from all the stress and heartbreak has proved to be quite helpful as well. Reality television like The Great British Bake Off and The Amazing Race and TV dramas like The Queen’s Gambit and Schitt’s Creek keep me entertained for a sustained period of time and provide much-needed breaks from my writing projects and schoolwork. Games like Scrabble and Ticket to Ride challenge me mentally and force me to interact with others, which brings me to the next and final tip . . .
Not going at this on my own. I find it funny that in the early days of the pandemic, introverts like myself joked about how we’d been preparing for this moment and how social distancing would be a piece of cake. Well, this introvert got real sick of social distancing sometime mid-summer and wanted nothing more than to walk outside and hug a random stranger. But since I can’t do that, I’ll appreciate that I have the support of immediate family and continue to keep in touch with my friends over Zoom and Discord. Technology often gets a bad rap but it’s provided a way to stay connected with friends and family until we can see them in person again, and while it’s certainly not the same, right now it’s the next best thing.
Especially in the news, we hear a lot about nasty people doing nasty things. But there are just as many—if not more—kind and empathetic people who want what’s best for humanity. The doctors and scientists who are working twenty-four-seven to put an end to this pandemic. The mental health professionals who are taking on new cases all the time without complaint. The teachers who are trying their best to provide kids with a decent education in a complicated hybrid learning environment. The politicians who aren’t corrupt and genuinely care about their country or state’s wellbeing. The list goes on.
Just like those good people exist, so does hope. It’s cliché but this too shall pass, and when it does, when the pandemic is finally behind us, we’re all going to be a hell of a lot stronger—and hopefully a bit more gracious. But until then, I’ll keep practicing these tips and recommend that anyone else who’s feeling how I am—anxious, frustrated, and doubtful—try to as well. One final suggestion I have—and one I’ve said before on this blog—is to take life one day at a time. The future is so uncertain that there’s no point in stressing over it; instead, let’s focus on the present, be grateful that we’re still here and still in decent health, and be inspired that if we’ve made it this far, we can absolutely see this thing through.