If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, call the Maine Crisis Hotline at 888-568-1112.
Last spring, when the pandemic arrived in Maine, many people coped by doing things that were fun, novel or distracting. Months later, people are still looking for diversions, but increasingly the focus is shifting to more mindful activities that can be part of a daily routine.
After months of facing global, national and local stressors, how people approach self-care is changing, according to mental health professionals.
“One of the things we are seeing across the state is a vast increase for mental health services.” said Angela Fileccia, social worker and manager of Northern Light Acadia Hospital’s healthy life resources program. “Focusing on how we care for ourselves and others around us is supercritical right now.”
Fileccia said dealing with changes due to COVID-19 protocols, the election and the economy have become long term stressors in people’s lives. That’s why self-care has been so important these past months. But, because it’s been so long, the form of self-care has evolved.
“As much as I love getting a pedicure and it’s fun for me, getting one may not sustain me over months and months,” Fileccia said. “Now we need to be thinking about what is something I can do every single day that will help with my mental and physical well being?”
Those self-care strategies need to become a habit, Fileccia said.
“For awhile my daily mental checklist was ‘Do I have my wallet, my phone and my mask?’” Fileccia said. “Now I add in “What am I doing today and every day to take care of myself?’”
Whatever it is, Fileccia said, it does not need to be complicated. It just needs to be sustainable.
Mainer Michael Kane discovered his self-care needs are best met when he can take time just for himself.
“My best time of day for myself is predawn before the world wakes up,” Kane said. “It’s a quiet, contemplative space to reflect, pray and meditate.”
Kane’s self-care ritual continues with tending to his various farm critters, getting his breakfast and a long walk in the woods with a good friend.
“I prefer a good dog,” Kane said. “But a good human would probably work, too.”
Other Mainers like Dick Krause have turned to a spiritual routine.
“The thing that helps my wife and I the most during these stressful times is our faith and reliance on God,” Krause said.
Sticking to a self-care routine whether it’s a daily walk or a daily prayer is key for coping with stress, Fileccia said.
“Humans crave schedules,” she said. “So even if you are working from home or schooling from home, if you can create a daily schedule and stick to it that can be a great form of self-care.”
Try to keep those schedules as close to pre-pandemic life as possible. Establish and keep to regular meal times, break times and — most importantly — times to go have fun and not think about work or school.
“I listen to the 6 to 8 p.m. jazz shows on WERU when I get home from work,” Amanda Reynolds said. “I also listen to uplifting audio books on my commute to and from work.”
Creating a routine that involves time for listening to music, reading, meditating or just sitting and relaxing away from any screens are easy to create and sustain, Fileccia said.
Screen time, she said, can really add to a person’s stress. This is especially true if you get caught up in the so-called habit of doom scrolling — jumping from one online stressful story to another.
“We are doing more and more work online out of necessity,” Fileccia said. “If you want to look at online articles or social media as a form of entertainment, I recommend making that a part of your daily schedule and set a time limit like 20 minutes and set an alarm to alert you when to stop and turn your device off.”
Other simple items for self-care can include making sure you drink enough water, eat nutritious foods and avoid drinking excess alcohol.
It’s also important to keep in mind that there is nothing unusual about feeling stressed out right now. You are certainly not alone. The American Psychological Association reported last week that
Eight in 10 adults said the pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives. Three in 5 said the number of varying issues facing Americans is overwhelming to them.
“I like to remind folks that feeling stressed, anxious and even a bit depressed right now is probably pretty normal,” Fileccia said. “This is a strange time and none of us have ever lived through a pandemic before so feeling out of sorts is normal.”
However, if those thoughts turn to feelings of hopelessness, self-harm, create inability to sleep or even get out of bed, there is cause for concern. That’s when it’s time to seek professional help. Fileccia said.