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Mental Health and Stress Management

May 6, 2020

By: José Barraza, SHRM-CP

WGU SHRM Virtual Student Chapter–Vice President

When I chose the topic to write about for the WGU SHRM chapter, the idea of mental health kept popping up on social media ads as much as the idea itself popped in my mind. I don’t know if this happened to you, but I was doubling or tripling on the midnight snacks. I could not find sleep and sleep could not find me. I kept thinking of everything; relevant or not. I was a hostage of my own overthinking, and might you add—the caloric contents of everything that I was ingesting. I had fallen off the security of my schedule, the safety that normalcy brings, and from the world I used to be a participant of just two months ago. In the media world, this state of being would be best described as a “loop”, an analytic and food frenzy I could not escape.

To get perspective and gain some kind of purpose, I delved into reading on the matter, researching through every cyber crevice my eyes could get ahold of to inspect and dissect the information. I found readings very constricting, some others alienated in intent of instilling true calmness, being that most articles are merely step-by-step guides to self-help without a human aspect or personal narrative. Therefore, in the name of science, I offered myself as a tribute for this topic, just like Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games Trilogy. I consulted with two dear friends of mine—one that is a psychiatrist, and another one that is front and center of COVID-19 pandemic as a nurse. I shared with the psychiatrist my state of being, asked her questions, and prompted her to focus on the matter at hand for I needed answers to write this article. I might have blatantly demanded that she spare the “tell me about your growing up years” conversation, too.    

One of the first questions that really haunted me was: What do you do with your mind when there is not much to do?

She expanded on the idea that stemmed from a perspective that seemed to be pro-boredom, then gave facts that supported that initial claim. She said, “spending time inside our homes at this time shouldn't be difficult. Arguably, we have the largest variety of home and mobile entertainment/connectivity that has ever existed in modern history." I halted for a minute, and asked: then why is quarantine wiping out our emotional and mental balance? She then guided me to read studies done by Mr. Timothy Wilson.

There was a study in 2014 by Timothy Wilson, et. al., that makes it clear that humans prefer the administration of small electrical shocks rather than to spend 6 to 15 minutes accompanied only by their thoughts. Why? In a time that all we have is ourselves, what can we do? How many days can we be home without losing our mind? It's simple, say the gurus, "keep your balance, eat well, exercise, read, take the opportunity to study something!”, but how do we do it when there is barely motivation to brush your teeth? Can we go back to normal? The answer is probably a big fat no. There has not been a single historical event in the existence of time that at the end, has left the world as it was before its appearance. This is a great time to assess the priorities that shape your routine. Do I really need a car? Does my job require me to go to the office? Do I overstock on toilet paper? Is there life beyond these four walls?

A meme (the source of modern colloquial wisdom) circulates social media that says “You are only unproductive by the world-standards of two months ago. That world has disappeared.” Perhaps the reason for our distress is that we are trying to force a life that is no longer possible, or that is no longer possible right now.

There is chit-chat about tapping into quarantine to find purpose and using this time to develop a passion. Finding a purpose is difficult if we have no idea what will happen in the next few days, months, or years. Maybe this is a good time to practice the art of calmness and cultivating a purpose. Sometimes we will have to find peace within the chaos through the adaptation of our behavioral and mental habits.

It is a completely healthy response to feel concern or fear in the situation we are going through as humanity. Ignoring or suffocating anguish, fear, or worry introduces us to a cycle of mental torture. But what do we do? Recognize what you feel, focus your attention on your emotion and welcome all the information it has to give you. Listen to your thoughts in an orderly fashion, even jot them down, but go through them so they don’t trap you and so that you have a means to tell yourself, “I’ve addressed that thought,” mitigating the opportunity of negative thoughts to creep on you and consume you.

As an attestation in good faith, I confess that everyone that knows me knows that I am a horrible cook. But, for example, I’ve focused on little victories, including making edible-quality rice.

Both the psychiatrist and nurse emphasized mental wellness and self-care regiments or rituals to feel beautiful and do some caring for yourself that maybe you haven’t tried or have forgotten to do. House cleaning or organizing the messy books or documents you have been wanting to get around to but haven’t. Structure in your day, even though there is no tangible schedule to abide by. Set up structure to help you feel productive in the COVID-19 world standards. Read a good book or catch up on classroom readings. Take breaks, have a healthy snack, drink water, stretch, do a set of jumping jacks, meditate, try and bake if you’re not a baker, try and cook if you are not a cooker. Even though you probably are not going anywhere, continue showering and putting on clothes that you would normally put on. In my most desperate hues, I look on YouTube for cute animal videos. Binge watch, but pace yourself and give meaning to the day. Make lists of even the easiest tasks: make the bed, brush your teeth, fold the clothes—you’ll have evidence for yourself that you have been doing things, even if they are small. In social distancing standards, call/text/video chat with your friends and family and have those means of communication open. Be informed but limit the exacerbation of redundant information in news outlets.

The priorities and needs of the world are changing rapidly, so perhaps ours must also do so. It is necessary to be patient with ourselves and embrace the idea that we do not have the certainty that what we learn today will serve us tomorrow. Give yourself the opportunity to see that despite the chaos, we have managed to survive for two months, and counting. Focusing on what is working can still broaden our perspective and detect the opportunities that this crisis offers us but that we cannot see at the moment. Lastly, let’s all chant three true things:

1. This will pass

2. It will not pass as quickly as we want it to

3. This will pass.

A special thanks to psychiatrist Priscilla Gonzalez, Marriage and Family Therapist from Nuevo León-Monterrey, Mexico, for her invaluable insight and foresight. And to El Paso, Texas, nurse Mariela Lopez, for being my hero at the hospital during this critical time.

Also, the CDC has some guides in relation to how to cope with anxiety and stress on the following links:

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