In 2020, Everyone Is Struggling With Mental Health. Here’s Our Guide to Finding Peace.
“How could 2020 get any worse?”
Whenever someone, somewhere, writes or mumbles or scream-cries that question, the forces controlling this godforsaken year seem to take it as a challenge.
Once-in-a-lifetime global health crisis not traumatic enough for you? How about we add 100 nights of confrontations between protesters and tear gas-happy police? Let’s throw catastrophic wildfires and historically dangerous air quality on top of that. And then, just as the smoke dissipates and the sky reappears…Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead!
What’s next? Murder locusts? Biblical floods? Or maybe just a contentious presidential election that’s guaranteed to have most of us breathing into a paper bag as the results come in?
In the best of times, everyone could probably use therapy. But right now, no one can claim to be doing fine.
That’s why, with the arrival of fall—and in this part of the country, the start of six months of rain, darkness and seasonal depression—we’ve dedicated this issue to helping you find some level of serenity in the madness of 2020.
For some, that might mean eating a giant bowl of mac-and-cheese at 2 in the morning, or taking hallucinogenic mushrooms and tripping the stress away. Under the right conditions, both are valid forms of self-care. So we spoke to proponents of psilocybin therapy—which Oregon voters have the chance to legalize in November—and a doctor working to redefine what it means to be truly healthy.
We’ve also paid particular attention to the mental and physical well-being of Portland’s BIPOC community, who’ve been on the front lines of the fight for racial justice not just for the last four months but the past four centuries. We talked to a psychologist working to establish a therapy network specifically for Black Lives Matter supporters, and the organizer of a pop-up offering multiple forms of healing to protesters—for free.
Again, though, we’re all going through this year together, including mental health experts. Below, we asked a dozen therapists, counselors, yoga instructors and others in the healing field about their own methods for coping with…everything.
Hopefully, you can cull some strategies for maintaining over the next three months. Because precedent says 2020 definitely can get worse. But with the right tools, we can get through this year, and whatever comes after.
—Matthew Singer, Willamette Week A&C Editor
First off, it is important to remember that we are all in a place of collective grief during this time. This means that we may feel and behave like we are grieving. This is a cyclical experience, and the first suggestion I make is to first acknowledge what is happening and wherever you are in it, whether that be anger, rebellion, depression, anxiety, sadness, numbness, shutdown or business. Battle fatigue and compassion fatigue are real and come with true exhaustion. Knowing that there is no way we can perform at the level we were before the coronavirus hit is a form of radical acceptance. This means we start with the basics: Eating, drinking, showering, getting dressed as if you have somewhere to go can help. Think about preparing for the winter in Oregon by planning indoor activities, ways to get exercise, ways to create outlets for fun, and community—try a soup swap or some way to stay in contact with people. Finally, I recommend that you consider taking additional minerals as our bodies are burning a lot of them with the stress that we are under.
My main focus has been to shift what I’m exposed to on a regular basis. I limit when I listen to the news and monitor how often I’m getting on to social media. This reduces the number of times my heart and brain have to track and absorb crisis information. When I can’t lean out of TV, news and social media, I make sure I’m following accounts that are committed to Black joy and wellness and celebrating the full humanity of my culture and identity. I’m also working on creative routines that give my heart and my brain other things to track and absorb—like specific times where I’m vibing to a song or performance instead of the thoughts trying to consume me. I also just got some roller blades to mess around with, so I’ll be out rolling in these streets soon.
Holy Fire reiki master teacher
This year has been difficult for all of us and our nervous systems. I have navigated this year with daily breath work to support my lungs, lemon water in the morning for energy, meditation to calm my mind, and journaling to stay in touch with my heart. I define spirituality as being in relationship with something bigger than myself—the forces that connect and keep me in conversation with the whole of existence. This can look like feeling the earth beneath my feet when I’m out for a walk, the sensation of breeze, the sun on my face, or listening for the pulse of my heartbeat. I observe how those experiences create change in how I feel. For me, this is at the core of mindfulness.
I believe we all need to connect with something larger. Feeling the earth, smelling the dirt, watching squirrels, collecting bird feathers, connecting with my neighbors when I walk my dog have all been a part of my resiliency practice. In addition, I remind myself—and even challenge myself—to reach out when I am starting to feel isolated or deflated. I feel my feelings while also looking for opportunities to see humor and feel gratitude. I march when I can march, make calls when I can make calls, and sleep when I can sleep. And I literally use my eyes to widen my perspective: I focus broadly and set my eyeballs deeper in my sockets so I can settle deep inside myself as I meet the outer world.
Lead pastor, Mosaic Church
Bulletproof coffee first thing in the morning. This means I don’t need to fix breakfast and it gives me more time for reading. Each morning includes a few pages of a narrative Bible and then something related to our nation’s history of racial wrongs: The Warmth of Other Suns, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Between the World and Me. I also don’t touch my phone, the internet or social media until I’m done reading. This allows intentional space for peace as the day begins.
Like everyone, I’ve really struggled to stay sane throughout 2020. What has helped me a lot is to give myself small things to look forward to. For me, those are usually trips, but since travel is limited, I’ve had to get creative. Something as simple as a virtual cooking class or apple picking with family has helped break up the workweeks and given me something fun to really look forward to—plus, I end up with apple pie. When all else fails, a nice evening on the couch playing Animal Crossing always makes me feel better.
Since the start of the pandemic, I have been trying to remember a line I often repeat to my therapy clients, that there is no way we “should” feel other than how we feel in the moment. Anxiety is a normal reaction to ongoing trauma. We live in a culture that loves to prescribe activities we should do to make ourselves feel better. However, this type of self-care approach can covertly foster shame that we are doing yet another thing in the wrong way, or not doing enough. Rather than a prescriptive approach, I find it is more helpful to attune to what we may need in each moment, and to recognize that it is subject to change. Also salient in this particular moment is that those who hold marginalized identities are experiencing a significantly greater impact from this collective trauma. As a woman of color in a helping profession, I often feel the urge to take on more in order to feel like I am doing enough, and feel easily burned out as a result. During this season, I am trying to remember to embrace rest as a part of my work.
I have found it helpful to take one day at a time. I give myself unconditional permission to feed, rest and move my body in ways that bring me comfort and joy when possible. Going barefoot in the grass or the garden almost daily has been another comforting anchor. I honor that there are moments in time that feel rough and it’s OK for it to feel that way. Be gentle with yourself.
Personally, I have been focusing on trying to find moments—often literally minutes—of stability and balance internally and externally. Externally, maintaining and building new connections with others to keep hold of a sense of community. Internally, I use a practice that I learned a few years ago of balancing energy and breath in my body, focusing on the left and right sides of my body, then the front and back and finally the upper and lower halves of my body. I also do a ton of reminding myself and those I am in contact with that intense and/or unusual responses are very much in line with these intense and unusual times.
I’ve focused on the little things, as it’s the little things that save us. The moments people tend to take for granted are usually the moments of the most value: morning tea time, socially distanced dance parties, slow walks around the neighborhood. (Sounds like a dating profile.) Give gratitude for the people in your life. Notice all that you do have. It’s an unprecedented time, but even so there’s always one thing to be grateful for.
On an exhale, allow the tongue to fall from the roof of the mouth and the lips to part slightly. This is the mechanical relaxation of the jaw and a signal from body to brain that you are well and safe. Engage the muscles between the shoulder blades, while softening the shoulders, and you have a posture that says to the brain, “I am openhearted. I have everything I need. I am curious rather than afraid.”
All I can say is, do what you can and forgive yourself if you can’t.