Taking good care of yourself is an important part of staying well so that you can be there for the ones you love. It’s like the advice we’re given on airplanes – to put on your oxygen mask first before trying to help someone else. Simply put, in order to care for those you love you must first care for yourself. Join Psych Hub and Optum by making a #NoteToSelfCare so you’re ready when your family, friends, and community need you most. On this page you’ll find tips for making self-care a priority and learn how being mindful of your emotional health can support your long-term wellbeing and help you stay ready to support the people you care about.

 

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It’s natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during difficult times. Whether you’re among the 1 in 5 Americans that experiences a mental illness in a given year, or could simply benefit from boosting your wellbeing amid the stress and disruption of the COVID-19 public health crisis, practicing self-care is an important part of staying well so you can be there to support the ones you love. Consider the following tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Mental Health America to help take care of your emotional health during this stressful and anxious time:

Try to eat healthy well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep. Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Learn more about wellness strategies for mental health.

Make time to unwind and remind yourself that strong feelings will fade. Try taking in deep breaths. Try to do activities you usually enjoy.

When you feel that you are missing information, you may become more stressed or nervous. Watch, listen to, or read the news for updates from officials. Be aware that there may be rumors during a crisis, especially on social media. Always check your sources and turn to reliable sources of information like your local government authorities.

Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories. It can be upsetting to hear about the crisis and see images repeatedly. Try to do enjoyable activities and return to normal life as much as possible and check for updates between breaks.

If distress impacts activities of your daily life for several days or weeks, talk to a clergy member, counselor, or doctor. If you need someone to reach out to for mental health support, contact the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or one of these free hotlines for help.

At a time when social interactions have dramatically shifted due to COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders, the power of connection can play a big role in maintaining wellbeing.

Learning about your mental health may help you understand your hard times are not your fault. Try journaling about your experiences or making a list of your accomplishments to turn back to when you are feeling low.

During the time of COVID-19 and social distancing, connecting virtually with positive, loving people you care about and trust may ease stress and help your mood. Share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family member. Maintain healthy relationships and build a strong support system.

 

One way to help feel emotionally strong and resilient in times of stress is to connect to a broad community. Consider virtually volunteering with a community organization that helps fill a need. Giving to others may help build strong community bonds, while boosting the connections that can be important for strong mental health. 

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It all starts with a story. The journey to mental health recovery is a road best traveled with support from family, friends and community. Below are the stories of five people who know first-hand the feelings of loneliness and isolation that often accompany the challenges of living with a mental health condition. Learn how they use self-care practices to maintain balance and boost their wellbeing – especially during stressful and anxious times.

TRACY DAVISON-DiCANTO

“Everybody’s story is different and the methods they use to help themselves will be, too. I have not come across two people that can use the exact same self-care skills or mental health wellness program to meet their needs. Everyone is unique.”

Around the time Tracy Davison-DiCanto turned eight years old, she started finding bars of soap her mother had hidden in unusual places around the house, along with new ones packed in grocery bags in the living room. 

“At the time, I didn’t really think much of it until I would go to my friends’ houses,” Tracy recalls. “I noticed that their moms weren’t doing that.” 

Tracy also noticed something else; her mom would obsessively wash her hands with that soap and not just at home. Her fear of germs and dirt carried over to the elementary school where she taught kindergarten and first grade. 

In addition to having an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Tracy’s mom was battling a severe case of postpartum depression following the birth of her second daughter, Tracy’s younger sister. Around that same time, Tracy’s grandmother passed away. “I think losing her mom and trying to care for an infant was extremely overwhelming. My mother went into a very deep state of melancholy. She was very hard to talk to,” said Tracy. 

“We were just forging ahead to make sure my sister was being cared for, and at the same time that my mom wasn’t getting to a point where she was so depressed that she would potentially harm herself or my sister.” 

The emotional ups and downs took its toll on Tracy over the years. In high school she turned to extra-curricular activities and joined the color guard as an outlet. 

“It was a group of people who were committed to music, dance and performance, and I found that to be a really good release,” she said. “It allowed me to be creative and not focus on what was going on at home.” 

As time went on, Tracy’s mom battled breast cancer, went through inpatient care for OCD and tried many different mental health-related medications. When her prescription changed, instead of throwing the meds away, she stored them in a bathroom drawer. 

“I stumbled upon it one day and couldn’t believe how many were in there,” Tracy said. “I realized that my mom was not only keeping the old meds, sometimes she was still taking them. No one was asking questions about these meds, so I started managing them and it was a learning lesson for me.”

Just as it appeared Tracy’s mom was experiencing some improvement in her symptoms, she passed away after developing a bleeding ulcer. Tracy needed a way to deal with the grief and avoid getting pulled into the same place of withdrawal and sadness where her mom had spent most of her adult life. Tracy found comfort in music, yoga classes, deep breathing and journaling. Now that she has her own children, spending time with them is her favorite self-care method. 

“Whether it’s arts and crafts or going to the park, the amount of smiles and laughs that come out of them is probably some of the best self-care moments I will ever have in my life.” 

In the midst of the COVID-19 public health crisis, Tracy is managing the stress and disruption to daily life by drawing on the self-care skills she developed to help get through some of the most difficult times supporting her mom. 

She’s even sharing these skills with others as a volunteer for the Crisis Text Line, a non-profit organization that provides free, 24/7 support via texting for people experiencing a mental or emotional crisis. Tracy finds comfort and stress relief in helping others with mental health and providing the resources that she wishes she had known about when her mom needed additional support.

Tracy says there’s not a silver bullet that works for everyone when it comes to dealing with stress, whether it’s due to the strain of COVID-19 or a mental health diagnosis – you have to find what works for you.  “Everybody’s story is different and the methods they use to help themselves will be, too,” she said. “I have not come across two people that can use the exact same self-care skills or mental health wellness program to meet their needs. Everyone is unique.”

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MARC GUNDERSON

“If someone tells us they are struggling, you don’t have to fix it. Mostly what people need right now is to be heard.”

Marc Gunderson didn’t know what was happening. His hands and feet went numb. He was confused and couldn’t catch his breath or even tell someone he needed help. Marc was having his first panic attack at the young age of 15, and it happened in front of his church congregation while he tried to read a lesson.

“It was terrifying and humiliating being frozen up there in front of everyone,” Marc recalled. 

After that experience, Marc developed the fear of becoming the focus of attention and avoided all situations that had the potential of sparking more panic attacks. He stopped leaving the house. He developed a rash and became violently ill if he had to leave his room. Marc even turned down a scholarship to his home state university. Doctors later diagnosed Marc with major depression and agoraphobia, a panic disorder.

But why? What was sparking this fear that Marc carried into adulthood? 

“I knew something had to change because I had to live my life,” he said. “I started doing my own research and eventually learned about the impact childhood trauma can have on long-term mental and physical health.”

Marc says when he was a child his father would drink heavily and get violently abusive, forcing Marc to play the role of protector and caretaker to his mother and siblings. The stress and anxiety at such a young age grew into physical symptoms that made him fear he was dying, but Marc wasn’t going to let it stop him as an adult. 

With professional support, Marc learned to take small steps to recovery — literally. To help him leave the house, he started walking from the front door to the edge of his driveway, then to the end of his street, and eventually to the grocery store and other nearby destinations. He made steady progress and ultimately graduated from college and started a career working in the behavioral health field.

Marc changed his lifestyle to focus on health and wellness by developing the necessary self-care skills. He stays away from what triggers his attacks, such as high amounts of carbs and sugar. He designates time to go to the gym and makes a point of having face-to-face contact with friends and family. With the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 public health crisis, Marc is using these skills more than ever. He’s had to make adjustments, including exercising at the park instead of the gym and using video chat to keep in touch with people instead of in-person meetings.

“For those of us who are more at risk for having less mental wellness because of the isolation, we have to think more carefully about how we spend our days,” he said.

Marc says changing our routines and getting physically and socially cut off from those we care about can spark negative feelings, anxiety and depression. He says this is a natural response to an unnatural situation. Marc suggests not keeping these feeling to ourselves, reaching out to our support network, and using basic empathic listening skills when someone else needs help. 

“If someone tells us they are struggling, you don’t have to fix it. Mostly what people need right now is to be heard,” he said. 

Although Marc still struggles with anxiety, he says his self-care skills have helped him focus on supporting a strong foundation for his mental and physical health. Amidst the disruption of COVID-19, he says he needs and uses these skills more than ever. 

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Tawanna Jones headshot

TAWANNA JONES

“I’ve grown. I’ve embraced the journey and here I am today. I hope my story gives hope and inspires others to seek the help they need to recover from depression and move through it.”


It was a day that changed Tawanna Jones’ life for the best, but it certainly didn’t seem like it at the time. The transformation would take a long and painful journey before coming to fruition.

Tawanna was going through a second divorce. Her husband had taken everything, including all their money and both cars. With two children to care for and no child support coming in, Tawanna was depending on food pantries and got turned down for a car loan. She even missed out on a promotion at work because she had become so distracted by her personal and financial struggles.

“Everything was overwhelming, overpowering, and becoming too much to handle,” Tawanna said. “I was mentally exhausted. I felt hopeless and lonely.”

And that’s when it happened: all the emotions that she had stuffed down for so long suddenly surfaced all at once. She remembers sitting at a street corner in downtown St. Louis, but what she doesn’t recall is sitting there crying while rocking back and forth and talking like a child to the coworker who eventually found her.

After an evaluation, doctors admitted Tawanna to a psychiatric hospital for three days and diagnosed her with clinical depression.

“I was leery,” said Tawana. “As an African American female, we don’t talk about mental illness. We don’t talk about depression. We pray about it, we pull ourselves up, and we figure it out.”

In addition to treatment and prescription medication, Tawanna  learned self-care skills to help her heal. This included using journaling to unpack the emotions she kept bottled up inside. Today Tawanna also takes nature walks and has created a quiet space for herself where she prays and meditates. 

Although Tawanna wishes she had these coping skills when she was first diagnosed, she’s grateful for what she’s learned and what she can now share. 

“I’ve grown,” she said. “I’ve embraced the journey and here I am today. It helped me to be the better person I am, and that allows me as an African American woman to share my story with other people who look like me. I hope my story gives hope and inspires others to seek the help they need to recover from depression and move through it.”

Tawanna is going on eight years of recovery and has been off her medication for the last three of those years. She suffered a brief setback shortly after her diagnosis when her beloved grandmother passed away, but she drew on her newly developed self-care skills to cope and heal. Today she leans on these same skills to help her navigate the stress and disruption of the COVID-19 public health crisis. Like so many Americans, Tawanna is working from home and helping her children finish the school year online. Her husband has lost his job but through it all, Tawanna has remained hopeful because she knows she has the tools and experience to help her make it through difficult times.

She encourages others to also find self-care skills that work for them during these challenging times, whether it be keeping a routine while working from home, taking time to get outside for fresh air or taking an evaluation of their emotions, focusing on what they’re feeling and why.

For Tawanna, every day presents both a challenge and an opportunity to practice self-care.

“My recovery was like open heart surgery with no anesthesia,” she said. “I had to be willing to go through the pain and the darkness to get to the other side. What keeps me going is the grace that God has given me to tell my story and hopefully help others get through a similar experience.”

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ROBERT ANDRADE

“I wish I’d gotten into treatment sooner and not lost so many years to being unhappy and trying to self-medicate my feelings away. The help was always there but I didn’t know how to ask for it.”

A headlight on Robert Andrade’s car may have saved his life. Robert mistakenly had the high beams on, which caught the attention of a police officer. The traffic stop ended with Robert going to jail for drug possession.

“I was sitting in there asking myself, ‘What happened? What had I done?’ I had accomplished so much through my education, and I didn’t belong here. I was a single dad, my son was with the sitter overnight and didn’t hear from me because I was in jail. It opened my eyes and gave me some much-needed perspective. I had lots to lose sitting in that cell and so much to gain from getting sober.” 

It was a turning point for Robert. He had started drinking and using drugs at just 13 years old, a pattern he picked up from several family members who struggled with mental health and substance use issues. 

“I learned from an early age that if you’re feeling sad or angry or anxious, we don’t talk about it – we drink about it,” he recalls.

Robert’s substance use disorder cost him his car, his job and his home. After spending time in jail, Robert entered treatment and was hospitalized to detox from alcohol and drugs. Doctors diagnosed him with depression and an anxiety disorder. Since then, he’s consistently worked on addressing both diagnoses and has been in recovery for going on 20 years. 

On his road to recovery, Robert’s developed self-care skills to help him stay on track. He sees a therapist and attends 12-step meetings on a regular basis. He focuses on a healthy diet, includes exercise in his routine and has even taken up sailing. But like many, the COVID-19 public health crisis has turned Robert’s routine upside down and he’s had to adjust accordingly.

“It requires being aware and cognizant of what wellness looks like and what wellness does not look like,” he said. “I look for patterns that suggest that I might be becoming unwell. For example, if I’m sleeping longer or taking multiple naps during the day, for me that’s a telltale sign of depression.”

To keep Robert on track, he’s moved his monthly meetings with his therapist to weekly. His 12-step meetings are no longer in person but in a video chat format, something that’s not easy for Robert to get used to doing.

“It’s basically you talking and not getting a lot of visual feedback,” he said. “That’s been an adjustment. When milestones are celebrated, you see people wave their hands or clap. It’s better than nothing, but there’s danger in not sharing what you might in person.”

Whether it’s overcoming mental health issues or dealing with the uncertainty of COVID-19, Robert hopes to inspire and encourage others to seek help and find the self-care skills that work for them.

“I wish I’d gotten into treatment sooner and not lost so many years to being unhappy and trying to self-medicate my feelings away,” he says. “The help was always there but I didn’t know how to ask for it. That’s why it’s so important to eliminate the stigma around behavioral health conditions because it keeps too many people from acknowledging there’s a problem and reaching out for support.”

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JULIE HARDLE

“With recovery, there isn’t an end goal. There’s not a finish line, it’s something you have to put work and effor into every day.”

It’s 4:07 a.m. The sun and even the birds are still in a deep slumber, but not Julie Hardle. Like precise clockwork, Julie springs out of bed, ready to start her day with a two-mile run, followed by strength training, intervals, stretching and meditation. 

“It sounds extreme, I know,” Julie said with a chuckle. “It makes me feel balanced. I get a good endorphin rush so that I always start the day very uplifted and in a good mood.”

For the past five years, Julie has worked out with the same group of “workout buddies” three days a week. Exercise and the support of her group are a few ways that Julie has reclaimed her mental and physical well-being, something Julie says she had struggled with since she was very young. After an attempt to take her own life, Julie was rushed to the hospital where she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. That moment was the beginning of a more than two-decades long recovery journey that has included stops and starts along the way, including seven hospitalizations. Julie is also in recovery from substance use disorder.

“With recovery there isn’t an end goal,” she said. “There’s not a finish line, it’s something you have to put work and effort into every day.”

In addition to medication and conventional therapy, Julie started exploring other tools for managing her symptoms that spark joy and hope. She revisited her love of oil painting, learned to play the guitar and volunteered at an elementary school. Julie’s search for purpose eventually led to a passion for exercise and triathlons, which led to her losing 150 pounds.

“While this keeps me physical fit, it also keeps me mentally fit, emotionally balanced and helps me pursue the spirituality that’s really important to my recovery.”

Of all her workouts, strength training has taught Julie to tune out the noise of life and focus intensely on correct body posture, the muscle she’s working, and her breathing. Julie even applies these techniques to work and life when her minds starts churning endless thoughts. 

“When I’m feeling stressed out, it’s time to align myself. Just like with weight training, I focus on my breathing, what needs to get done and let go of the things around me that I have no control over. It helps me stay in a good place,” she said.

Julie is also using her coping skills to deal with the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 public health crisis. She is adamant about keeping a routine, especially with her workout buddies, even if they can’t be in the gym together.

“When we get done working out, we text a checkmark to the group and let them know how long it took us, what our beginning, average and highest heart rate was that day. We congratulate each other, and it helps us feel really connected to the group, and I think that’s important. Without it, it would be very easy to feel isolated.” 

It has taken many years for Julie to find her passion, support and coping techniques to establish balance. Julie isn’t done searching, and she encourages others to do the same in these uncertain times. 

“I think we all have one or two things that help,” Julie said. “We need to be curious, try new things and figure out what works for you.”

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We’ve compiled helpful information on mental health statistics, a terminology guide on how to speak about mental health responsibly, and ideas to practice good self-care during this period of heightened stress. As you might imagine, all of our guides are prepared with the intention of helping you become more attuned to your own emotional health and how you may spark conversation with others about mental health to stay connected and stay positive. Use these guides to help spark conversation and strengthen your community.

Keep this list of self-care tips handy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Remember that it’s ok to be concerned – you are not alone in your challenges right now. 

Mental health conditions impact – and connect – us all. Learn about the commonality of mental health challenges with this Mental Health Fact Sheet.

Words matter. If you’re not sure about how to name a mental health challenge or are holding back speaking to someone about mental health because you’re not sure what to say, this terminology guide is for you.

We’ve created a playlist of videos specific to COVID-19 mental health considerations. Take a peak at these short, informative videos.

NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI advocates for access to services, treatment, supports and research and is steadfast in its commitment to raise awareness and build a community for hope for all of those in need.

Mental Health America has provided this resource for identifying help specific to your location. Visit the “Finding Help” page for information on mental health conditions and links to resources in your area.

The COVID-19 situation continues to quickly evolve with new information. Please visit the CDC coronavirus information page for the latest information on COVID-19.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org to access support via a chat function.

The COVID-19 Resource Hub includes videos produced by Psych Hub, and written and visual assets developed by leading national organizations for maintaining one’s wellbeing and coping with mental health concerns during a global pandemic.

If you’re feeling worried or stressed about COVID-19, there’s help. Call the Optum Emotional Support Help Line toll-free at 1-866-342-6892, available 24 hours a day/seven days a week.