A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, caring for our mental health remains as important as ever.
While we’ve adjusted our lives in many ways to adapt to our “new normal,” it’s normal to still be having a hard time with the stress and uncertainty of this challenging time. If you’re dealing with depression, anxiety or other mental health issues at this point in the pandemic, you’re not alone, and there are many ways to seek help.
We asked therapists to recommend their favorite mental health resources for people struggling amid the pandemic.
“Know that it’s OK to ask for help,” said Zainab Delawalla, a licensed clinical psychologist in Atlanta. “For many, underlying vulnerabilities in relationships have been forced to the surface, and their typical coping strategies are no longer working. It’s OK to ask for help and reach out to a professional who can help you process difficult emotions and learn new coping skills.”
Many employers offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and other mental support resources during the pandemic. You can also consult with your insurance company to find an in-network provider or learn about your out-of-network coverage if you choose to look elsewhere.
“There are many directories listing clinicians of various specialities and backgrounds,” said Maryland-based licensed clinical psychologist Cindy Graham. “Some popular directories are Psychology Today, Therapy For Black Girls, Therapy for Black Men, GoodTherapy, and directories through the Anxiety and Depression Association of America just to name a few.”
Online therapy services like BetterHelp and Talkspace can provide more affordable options and may even offer financial aid or other payment plans.
“Those who may struggle to pay for mental health care can find success through pro bono counseling services, community mental health centers, local churches or affiliation groups, or nonprofit organizations, such as The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation that provides funding for mental health services,” Graham added. “Some colleges and universities provide mental health services to the public and sometimes at reduced rates.”
She also pointed to local chapters of national mental health organizations like as NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).
“Integrate some meditation into your life,” suggested Rachel Thomasian, a licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Playa Vista Counseling in Los Angeles. “There’s been so much going on and so much noise all around, it’s important to let your mind be still for a few minutes a day.”
Meditation apps like Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer can help you ease into the practice of meditation and offer free content or trials. You may also be able to find some instructional videos online on places like YouTube. Research shows that even just a few minutes of meditation can help relieve stress, improve sleep and more.
Mental Health Instagrams
Many therapists, artists and more have Instagram accounts offering helpful messages, self-care tips, guided meditations and other mental health content.
Meg Gitlin, a New York-based psychotherapist who runs the account @citytherapist, recommends @newhappyco “for tools for living a more meaningful and engaged life,” @sitwithwhit “for really great perspectives on mental health,” @ejltherapy for addiction resources, and @marcellakelson for parenting guidance.
“Social media has two sides, so go to the side of inspiration, support and help rather than the one of ridicule, stress and fighting,” added Bethany Cook, a clinical psychologist in Chicago who shares parenting humor and insights on her Instagram and runs an interactive Facebook group. “Many creative, brave and inspiring individuals are sharing their survival stories on social media as well as some motivational stories about overcoming adversity. Find a few to follow that inspire you.”
Mental health is also a popular topic on TikTok.
“Mobile crisis units can be a particularly important resource for those experiencing a mental health emergency, as are the Crisis Text Line (text “Home” to 741741) and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255),” Graham said.
Other useful lines include the Disaster Distress Helpline (1-800-985-5990), which helps those experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters, The Trevor Project (1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678678), which is a suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth, and Trans Lifeline’s Hotline (877-565-8860), a peer support service for people who are trans or questioning.
Gitlin recommended seeking out top books about the mental health issues you’re experiencing.
“For example, if someone told me they were struggling with anxiety, I would tell them to check out ‘The Anxiety Handbook’ by Edmund J. Borne, which has 1 million copies in print,” she said. “Knowledge is power, especially because mental illness in particular can be so isolating.”
Reena B. Patel, a licensed educational psychologist in San Diego and author of “Winnie & Her Worries” suggested trying the “4-7-8” breathing method.
“Part your lips slightly and exhale with a whooshing sound through your mouth. Close your lips and inhale silently through your nose. Count to four in your head. Hold your breath for seven seconds. Exhale (with a whoosh sound) for eight seconds,” she said. “Practice this mindlessly to let your brain relax. Complete this cycle for four full breaths.”
Breathing exercises are another free, non-time consuming way to relax in moments of stress. There are many guided breathing videos on YouTube and other resources to help you practice.
“I discovered Soma breathwork founded by an inspiring individual and entrepreneur Niraj Naik,” said London-based clinical psychologist Genevieve von Lob. “Having a daily practice of breathwork has helped me to release stress and feel far more calm, present and connected for myself, my family and my clients.”
“I think it’s so important to move and exercise and it’s been easy to stay stagnant while quarantining,” Thomasian said. “It doesn’t take more than a 20 minute commitment and there are so many streaming workouts, there’s something for everyone.”
There are lots of ways to exercise at home, from Instagram workouts to fitness apps to self-guided HIIT routines. Yoga can be an especially good exercise for mental health.
“I would recommend virtual workshops that support mental health,” said Nicole M. Ward, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles.
The Zoom age has brought lots of live streaming workshops, panels and even interactive events that address the psychological challenges people are facing amid the pandemic.
“The Center for Network Therapy started a live Facebook event every week open to the public, ‘Ask Dr. C,’ featuring community leaders, recovery specialists, law enforcement, psychiatrists, addiction treatment professionals, etc., so that people in the community could have a virtual support platform to answer their questions and address their concerns,” said New Jersey-based psychiatrist Indra Cidambi. “Topics addressed included stress related to working from home, psychological impact of weight gain, excessive alcohol consumption, planning medication refills, accessing online self-help groups, etc.”
Mental health podcasts and apps like MindShift and What’s Up? provide helpful tips for coping during this time too. It’s important to note that none of these are a replacement for talk therapy, but can be great supplements. When looking for mental health guidance, seek out sources you trust.
“I would just be thoughtful and research where you are getting your information and not to take anything at face value,” Gitlin said.
The Great Outdoors
“I encourage everyone to get some outdoor time each day,” Thomasian said. “Being indoors all day, every day is contra-indicative for mental health. Go to the beach, walk on some grass or just walk down the street. Whatever is available to you, make the most of it.”
Spending time in nature is restorative and free. There are also great apps with hiking options, guided walks, information about the natural world and more.
“Focus on the positive” may seem like trite advice right now, but there is power in gratitude.
“Practicing gratitude and acknowledging what has gone well today (however small it may seem) can really boost your mood over time,” von Lob said. “If you are someone who tends to focus on the negatives of the day, then try to become aware of this by taking a pause, acknowledge the thoughts that are in your mind (you can say to yourself ‘thinking’ or ‘noticing worry’ or ‘there’s anger again’) and then refocus on a positive or more helpful thought.”
Try writing down things you’re grateful for in a special journal or even typing it in your notes app or a gratitude-specific app. You may see a mood and mindset shift over time.
“Create a gratitude list,” Patel advised. “For every challenge or negative point you write, next to it write two things you are grateful for. You will see that you have more things to be happy about.”
“Another thing I would suggest is to ensure that your environment cultivates a positive mood,” said Saniyyah Mayo, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles. “Our homes and work are usually where we spend most of our time so ensure that it exudes happiness and positivity.”
There are lots of apps that can help you redesign your space. Following home decor-related Instagram accounts like @apartmenttherapy and @thishouse5000 can also be soothing and provide inspiration.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.