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As a nation, we are in the midst of a significant mental health crisis. The past few years have been marked by a tremendous amount of loss, change, and uncertainty, including our sense of safety, a loss of structure and routine, and the loss of life itself. The grief of isolation and the disruption caused by the pandemic, as well as ongoing systemic issues of racism and inequitable access to health care, including mental health care, have created a tremendous strain on our mental, physical, and spiritual health.

Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen significant increases in rates of anxiety and depression, especially for young adults ages 18 to 29. Alarmingly, rates of emergency room visits related to suicidality have increased, particularly among adolescent girls. Parents and guardians report concerns about social isolation, increasing mental health issues, and screen saturation for their children.

Food and housing insecurity continues to be a problem for many. In what has been called “The Great Resignation,” people have been leaving their jobs in record numbers, particularly those in midcareer, as pandemic-related issues have forced people to reevaluate their lives. Some of us have spent the last few years in survival mode, having lost jobs, homes, security, and those close to us. For others, slowing down during the pandemic has created the space we needed to reevaluate our lives, jobs, and relationships, reflecting on what is most important to us.

Looking at this moment through the lens of grief and loss can be helpful. The rituals we expected to experience at various transitions in our lives have been taken away from us.

The ongoing losses we have faced over the past few years have been stressful. Divisions related to politics and systemic stressors related to oppression and marginalization compound these losses. When these losses pile up and last for a long time, they can overwhelm our normal capacity to cope. Even though our hearts can break, grief is survivable.

As a counselor and educator, I marvel at the incredible resiliency of the human spirit and the growth that comes from moving through adversity. Instead of something to “get over,” it’s helpful to think about loss as something we move through and eventually learn to accommodate in our lives, even though it’s painful. This means acknowledging and accepting how hard life is right now and having faith that it will get better.

It means being kind to ourselves and those around us to create space for healing. Like palm trees bending in a hurricane to withstand the stress of gale-force winds, to heal, we must pay attention to both what’s happening outside of us and what’s happening within.

Here are a few tips to CREATE restorative connections that can address the overwhelming stress we may be feeling:

C: Connect. Take opportunities to connect with others, whether it’s meeting a friend for a walk, helping out a neighbor, or connecting in some way that restores your faith in the world. Try to get off screens and engage “IRL” (in real life). Focus on relationships that are positive and self-affirming. Engage in restorative practices like moving more, getting out into nature, and spending time with positive people. Share a meal with someone. Our burdens are more manageable when shared.

R: Rest and relaxation. Make time to slow down. Get enough sleep. Drink more water. Manage your healthrelated concerns by taking time each day, even for a few minutes, to focus on yourself through breathing, mindfulness, or other restorative practices. Refocus on what’s important to you.

E: Engage in daily movement. Create opportunities for movement every day. Go for a walk after lunch or with the kids, do yoga, or hit the gym. Stand up and walk around for a few minutes every hour, especially if you find yourself sitting a lot. Try to get outside every day for at least 10 minutes.

A: Accept and acknowledge. Acknowledge the losses and uncertainties the past few years have brought. Try to be present in the here and now to reflect on what you need to help you in this moment. Focus on what you can control; practice letting go of things you can’t.

T: Thankfulness. Practice gratitude, self-compassion, and kindness to yourself and others. Make a list every day, on paper, in your mind, or out loud, about things for which you are grateful. It can be helpful to remember small things (I’m thankful for the sun on a winter day) and big things (I’m thankful I’m alive).

E: Experiment. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to addressing the stress of loss and managing your own mental health needs. Perhaps you need to build more structure into your day to provide more routine. Maybe you need to talk to someone when life gets overwhelming. Perhaps prayer or meditation helps you to feel grounded. Find what works for you on your journey toward good mental, physical, and spiritual health.

Dr. Claudia Lingertat is a professor of counseling who has worked at Saint Rose since 2003 and serves as chair of the Department of Counseling. She has expertise in healing-centered and trauma-informed schools, including a specialty in grief and loss in children and adolescents.


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