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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Preserving Your Mental Health During Times of Crisis: Tips from a Psychologist

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  In our effort to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health afflictions, I sat down (virtually) with Dr. Julie Lehane, a licensed psychologist, who shared easily-adaptable activities and behaviors that we can incorporate into our daily lives to help reduce anxiety while improving our overall mood. (You can listen to our conversation here.)

Who is Dr. Julie Lehane?
Dr. Julie Lehane, Ph.D., has been in private practice in Manhattan for over 20 years. Her approach to therapy is psychodynamic which has a firm foundation in psychoanalysis, of which she has had years of postdoctoral training. Dr. Lehane has also had a lifetime of experience in public health service working for people living with HIV, which has expanded her view of how different people experience stress and cope with anxiety, depression, and trauma. She is the past President of the Adelphi Society for Psychology and Psychoanalysis, the Treasurer of the New York State Psychological Association (NYSPA), and past-president of the Division of Psychoanalysis in NYSPA. In addition to her private practice, she is currently providing supervision for therapists in the areas of chronic health, trauma, and LGBTQ+  issues. She has made a number of professional presentations on these topics. Dr. Lehane is also the co-founder of the Noir Institute.

Why are we doing this?
“Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.” - Mentalhealth.gov 
Yet, all of these things are often overlooked or put on the back burner when we’re caught up in work, school, and everyday life. This discussion is meant to recenter and to remind ourselves that a healthy mind is important especially during times of crisis. Our conversation highlights a few, easy ways to manage social isolation and our slow transition into a “new normal” of daily existence.

What are some easy things people can do to improve mental health in general right now?
Dr. Lehane recommends:
1. Getting a routine and sticking to it. With our typical everyday life out the window, it’s important to keep as much normalcy as possible. Try setting an alarm, showering, and getting dressed and ready for the day. Accomplishing these small goals might be the only thing you do all day (and that’s fine!), but they also set the stage for whatever else comes your way throughout the day. This leads to her next point... 
2. Setting an intention for the day. Try to do something/get something done. (It can be anything like getting up and getting dressed). Many people might be feeling guilty for not being as productive as they could be. This is normal, so try setting one goal for yourself a day to still feel a sense of accomplishment.  
3. Try to hold off on TV/Netflix/Social Media/News. Much of the news is heavy right now and feeling this heaviness early on in the day could dampen your mood. Try holding off until the afternoon/evening or after you’ve accomplished your intention for the day.

4. Monitor your sleep and eating habits. When you sleep and eat well, you feel better. There are countless free apps (FitBit, Nike Training Club, YouFood) that help you monitor what you eat and your activity levels. Take baby steps and set mini-goals for yourself to make being active not only fun but achievable.  
5. Do something that makes you happy. It’s important to keep your mind active and challenged. Dr. Lehane expressed that she’s learning Italian while being quarantined. This could also be a great opportunity to learn a technical skill. With many jobs going virtual, learning how to code or learning the fundamentals of digital marketing could prove lucrative down the road. There are many free resources for learning new technical skills such as YouTube, Khan Academy (★★★★), and Codecademy. Lastly, play a game with friends virtually! It’s important to stay in touch with loved ones while being quarantined.  
6. Don’t ignore signs if you think you might need to talk to someone. We’re all at a heightened level of anxiety. Try to stay present with your mental state and if you think you would benefit from talking to a mental health professional, do it! Dr. Lehane has shared resources for those living in New York.  
The Emotional Support Helpline (1-844-863-9314) provides free and confidential support, helping callers experiencing increased anxiety due to the coronavirus emergency. The Helpline is staffed by volunteers, including mental health professionals, who have received training in crisis counseling. 
You can find more COVID-19 resources here

Written by Giana Lozano, Marketing & Communications Assistant at Charity Navigator.

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