Promoting Mental Wellness in the Time of Coronavirus

By Rosa Friedman

From PHN Issue 42, Spring 2020

Being locked up is difficult enough under normal circumstances, and right now circumstances are far from normal. You may be experiencing a wide range of emotions, like loneliness due to lack of contact with peers and visits from loved ones, helplessness and anger at not being able to protect yourself, or numbness at the unrelenting nature of this crisis. You might shift dramatically between moods with little
warning, or have more thoughts about or symptoms related to other traumatic experiences. Whatever you’re feeling, remember there’s no wrong way to react to what’s happening. It’s normal to feel ungrounded, helpless, or just “off” in such an unusual situation, one where there’s so much uncertainty and powerlessness. It’s also normal to feel extra calm, especially if you’ve been through a lot of crises before. What’s important is to focus on what’s within your control and to do what you can to
care for yourself, mentally as well as physically. Here are some ways to practice selfcare during this difficult time:

  • Follow a routine. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Make a schedule for yourself and stick to it. It will help you stay grounded and not feel too overwhelmed.
  • Exercise. Movement stimulates chemicals that relieve stress and lift your mood, as well as keeping you physically healthy and enabling you to sleep better. Try the following exercises, with a 30-second break in between to catch your breath:
    • Squats (multiples of 5)
    • Push-ups (multiples of 5)
    • Jumping jacks (20+)
    • Plank (1+ minutes)
    • Lunges (10+ each side)
    • Crunches/Sit-ups (multiples of 5)
    • Burpees (multiple of 5)
  • Meditate. One practice called a body scan can be helpful for dealing with anxiety and other intense feelings. Sit with your eyes closed and make your inhales and exhales last the same amount of time. Starting at the top of your head, check in with each part of your body. Notice what feels comfortable and uncomfortable, whether there’s tightness, heat, or other sensations. You’re not trying to change anything, just notice it. If you get distracted, gently bring your focus back to where you left off without chastising yourself. Go through each part of your body, all the way to your toes.
  • Write. This could mean journaling or writing letters to people on the outside. Writing about what you’re feeling and experiencing can be a great release and a positive way to work through it. If you’re feeling helpless, it might help to write to local news organizations about how the jail or prison where you’re being held is
    dealing with coronavirus.

Don’t beat yourself up if you struggle to follow this advice. It can be hard to find focus and motivation when you’re dealing with such challenging circumstances. The most important self-care practice you can do is be kind and patient with yourself, so give yourself credit for whatever you try, no matter how small and insignificant it feels!

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