May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which seems tremendously relevant this year as the US begins to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with many communities experiencing record-high levels of anxiety and depression.
Thankfully, there are many available resources you can access for information and coping strategies around common struggles that affect mental wellness, both online and by contacting the VSRC.
You might want to start by checking out the free online mental health screening tools offered by Mental Health America. These are meant to be a quick snapshot of mental health. If your results show you may be experiencing these symptoms, they recommend sharing your results with a mental health provider who can provide a full, individualized assessment and offer treatment options. You can access these screening tools by clicking here.
We all face trauma, adversity, and other stresses throughout our lives. When people think of trauma, they often think of things like abuse, terrorism, or catastrophic events (big ‘T’ trauma). Trauma can also be caused by events that may be less obvious but can still overwhelm our capacity to cope, like frequent arguing at home or losing your job (little ‘t’ trauma).
Trauma of any kind can be hard on your mental health, but working on becoming more resilient can help you feel more at ease. Among people who took a screening at mhascreening.org in 2020, past trauma was the second most reported cause for mental distress, after loneliness. And people who have been through trauma are three times more likely to experience depression.
Mental Health America offers these tips for healing:
Process your thoughts. During and after experiencing trauma, it’s common to go into survival mode and not have energy to wrap your head around what happened. It may feel safest to bury painful feelings and avoid confronting them, but acknowledging what happened and its impact is an important part of healing. When you feel ready, take time to think about how you’ve been affected (and be proud of yourself for pushing through).
Connect with people. The pain of trauma can lead some people to isolate themselves, but having a support system is a crucial part of wellbeing. Support from others helps us to feel less alone or overwhelmed by what’s going on and what has happened in our lives. Talking to someone who has gone through a similar experience or someone who cares about you can be validating—and help you feel more capable of overcoming the challenges you’re facing.
Don’t compare your experience to others’. We often question our own thoughts or experiences. You may convince yourself that what you experienced wasn’t a big deal because “others have it worse.” Everyone experiences trauma differently, and no one trauma is “worse” than another. If it hurt you, then it hurt you—and your feelings and experiences are valid.
Take care of your body. Stress and trauma impact your body and physical health just as much as your mind. Listening to your body and giving it what it needs will help you heal. This includes eating a nutritious diet, getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, and exercising regularly. Moving your body is especially helpful in trauma healing; aim to do it every day, even if it’s only a few minutes of walking or stretching.
Know it will take time. There is no set timeline for how you “should” heal. Remove the pressure of needing to bounce back quickly and focus on taking it one step at a time. Remember: recovery isn’t linear, and it’s normal to have bad days and setbacks. It doesn’t mean you’re failing, it’s just part of the process.
Give yourself grace. Dealing with trauma and stress is no easy feat, and it’s common to get frustrated with yourself and what can sometimes seem like a slow recovery process. Try to notice when you hold yourself to unreasonable standards. Instead of angrily asking yourself, “Why am I acting like this?!”, think about how impressive it is that you keep going, despite what you’ve faced.
Don’t feel ashamed to ask for help. It’s easy to compare how you’re feeling to how you assume others who have been through similar experiences are feeling. You may get down on yourself because it seems like everyone else is doing “just fine.” What others experience and how they cope doesn’t matter in your journey. If you feel like you need (or want) help, it’s important to get that as soon as you can.
Remember that the VSRC is here to help you whenever needed. Register for free online educational sessions on the Calendar tab of our website. There are new events every month, such as “Coping with News of Mass Violence,” a topic that can bring a mixture of distressing emotions and memories. This session on May 3 will be co-facilitated by the VSRC’s Behavioral Health Coordinator, Terri Keener, and a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing, Amy O’Neill.
Another special outreach event will take place on May 25, facilitated by Stars of HOPE, a group that strives to create a community of hope and healing through creative art-making. This virtual workshop will enable you to create paper and digital Stars of HOPE to be used in a banner prepared as a collage to be sent to another community impacted by mass violence.
We know that 1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness during their lifetime, but everyone faces challenges in life that can impact their mental health or wellness, especially with the stresses of the last year. Reach out for help if you need it, and encourage others to do the same.