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FEATURE | Mental Health Awareness and the ‘new norm’

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SOCIAL distancing is a thing.

People wear face masks. Many carry gloves, hand sanitizer and antibacterial spray or wipes. We wash our hands constantly. These are the new norms.

When the coronavirus pandemic first hit, the CNMI watched from afar. As it traveled to other countries, each community coped with it in different ways. There were mass lock-downs, protests, panic buying and chaos. When it made its way to the CNMI, people struggled to keep balance. People no longer gathered at the beach, kids did not go to school, parents had to adapt to working from home and managing homeschool. Many people lost jobs. Some lost loved ones.

As we navigated through the ins and outs of living in a pandemic, we made adjustments to our lives. We tweaked our routines and removed or added practices. Now that the curve has been flattened, we are starting to go back to “normal.” But what is normal now and how can we mentally prepare ourselves for it? I found an article in The Highlight by Vox written by Elanor Cummins. She says:

“Few of us will be the same coming out of quarantine as we were going in: People with preexisting mental health conditions lost many of the routines that helped them cope, exacerbating their problems in the process. Many have experienced fresh hardship, like the loss of a job or the death of a loved one, which they likely weren’t able to properly mourn. And everyone has been forced to dramatically alter how they live, work, and accomplish even the most mundane tasks, such as shopping for groceries.”

Vox compiled these tips from five psychologists across different realms of the mental health community on coping with the new norm:

1) Accept that your anxieties are normal

Roxane Cohen Silver, professor of psychological science, medicine, and health at the University of California, Irvine

This is a very unusual and stressful and worrisome time. It’s okay to be feeling anxious. And there are many, many, many people experiencing losses — and those are real, and those should not be minimized.

2) Learn to manage your emotional response to fear

Christopher Pittenger, director of the OCD Research Clinic at Yale University

If we can learn to label the emotion and recognize them as signals that may be useful sometimes but don’t mean you’re in danger, then we can try to break that cycle of the anxiety or the fear feeding on itself and learn to tolerate it better.

3) Practice mindfulness, and cut out unhealthy routines

Rossi Hassad, epidemiologist and psychology professor at Mercy College

Mindfulness, as simple as it sounds, runs very deep. We encourage people to be mindful of how they consume the news. We want them to engage in healthy routines and be mindful of the use of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs, which can worsen your mental health and physical well-being in the long term. And if people need more support, we want them to know they can contact their state and city health departments, the CDC, and other organizations to get information on accessing professional services.

4) Fight apprehension by keeping yourself distracted

George Bonanno, director of the Loss, Trauma, and Emotion Lab at Columbia University Teachers College

People should distract themselves. But the idea is whatever you do, if it helps you, as long as it doesn’t become prolonged or harmful, that’s great.

5) Get involved to help stave off feelings of powerlessness

Susan Clayton, environmental psychologist at the College of Wooster

People can try to make their community more sustainable, or it could be political action, or it could be finding another group of people to meet with and talk about these problems. Taking action can help overcome that feeling of powerlessness, and that’s good for your mental health.

You can find the article online at: https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2020/5/13/21248281/coronavirus-mental-health-reopen-reopening-covid-anxiety-bars-restaurants-office

These tools are just five out of many activities you can do to help improve your mental health. If none of these tools help, please seek out professional help. If you feel like you are struggling with your mental health, visit https://screening.mhanational.org/screening-tools to check your symptoms. This is a free, confidential, and anonymous screening service. After receiving your results, you will be given information about your symptoms and resources to feel better. To get further evaluations, seek professional help by calling CHCC Family Care Clinic at  234-8950.

If you feel that you or someone you know has been discriminated against because of a mental illness, please contact the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness program at the Northern Marianas Protection & Advocacy Systems Inc. at 235-7273/4 or visit us on the web at www.nmpasi.org, www.facebook.com/NMPASI, and follow us on Instagram @nmpasi670.

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