Pandemic Mental Health Safety Plan

A pandemic is a whole other ball game. We are dealing with social isolation, government incompetence and cruelty (at least in the US), institutional/medical racism, etc. This pandemic is adding so much extra stress into our lives. Stress isn’t a light-weight thing. Long term stress weakens our immune system, makes us physically sick, messes with our ability to sleep, gets in the way of thinking clearly, triggers traumatic reactions, creates negative psychological effects, worsens mental health symptoms (anxiety, depressive symptoms, panic attacks, manic symptoms, increase substance use disorder symptoms, nightmares/sleep disorders, suicidal thoughts), etc. And at the same time, we are also dealing with loss. The loss of certain freedoms, disruptions of routines, loss of lives, loss of jobs, etc. The loss of physical contact and literally being close and social with people. We now in less than a month have had to self-quarantine and keep 6 feet way from people for social distancing. Many people have been avoiding loved ones who are older and/or immunocompromised for their safety, just in case they are carriers of the virus. This is the kind of sudden loss that turns someone’s entire social support system upside down before they can even process what they actually lost. Some people have had to return to toxic/abusive households and are struggling to survive everyday.

This pandemic has had huge, lasting effects on our physical health and mental health and the physical health and mental health of others in our lives. I am updating my previous safety plan given the current circumstances. The text is black is my original plan, which still has great information. And the red text is some COVID-19 pandemic additions I’m adding. A good safety plan is always up-to-date and reflects what’s going on in your life. It has to be useful or it’s a refrigerator decoration. So, time for an update.

Step 1: Identifying the situation. What are some signs that let you know you’re starting to feel hopeless, sad, frustrated, etc? Do you feel it in your body? Do you feel tired all the time? Do you lose your appetite or eat more than usual? Or is it more in your head/thoughts? Do you get racing thoughts, for example? Mindfulness techniques [Here’s a piece I wrote about how to find the find one for you] are great ways to get a clearer idea of how you’re feeling if you aren’t sure.

Some COVID-19 pandemic specific signs: extreme fear of illness, difficulty coping with illness in yourself or their loved ones, isolation felt from social distancing, loneliness, family conflict, etc. and that on top of the normal warning signs. Use mindfulness techniques and self-reflection to check in with yourself.

Step 2: Self-soothing. What can you do for yourself to return to back to how you were feeling before? What are some things you can do to cope with these feelings/this situation? How did you get through difficult times in the past? What stops, if anything, you from you using these coping skills now and how can you get around whatever is in your way?

Like many people, some of your coping skills might involve being out in public with other people. So what are you supposed to do now? It’s probably time to think about ways that you can cope while staying indoors.
Some great suggestions I’ve tried and/or heard include:

  • Make a weekly or daily schedule for yourself if you need structure
  • Set alarms to remind yourself to eat (similar suggestions here)
  • Take a time out by going to a different room, putting headphones on, meditating, etc.
  • Mindfulness exercises like I mentioned earlier
  • Do an activity to change your physical state like showers, exercise, holding ice, weighted blankets, getting a hug, getting dressed up, etc.
  • Distract yourself with reading, video games, TV/movies, cooking, knitting, writing, dancing, etc (things that don’t stress you out)
  • Donating money, food, skills, resources, etc directly to individuals and families in need to help you feel like you are making a difference

Step 3: Who your people? (I said what I said). Being able to self-soothe is important, but also don’t be afraid to reach out to trusted people in this difficult time. Who can you ask for help? And what kind of help do you want from each person? Do you wanna vent? Do you need to leave home for a couple days? Do you need someone to make sure you eat? Do you need help going to the Dr? Do you need help with classes? Do you need money or transportation? Do you need help filling out paperwork? Do you need someone to babysit your kids for a couple days? If your social circle is fairly small, what social agencies are in your area that provide free or low cost services? A lot of community organizations can provide resources or referrals to free or low cost assistance that many people are not aware of.

Ask yourself what you need every so often throughout this time (other than being touch starved which is definitely going to become more of a thing as this pandemic goes on) and how you can creatively meet those needs.

Example of ways to be socially connected during this time:

  • Call and video chat with friends and other loved ones
  • Video parties and happy hours
  • Leave food and stuff at each other’s doors
  • Virtual activities like museums, church services, games, dance classes, etc
  • Virtual support groups and peer support groups

Step 4: Emergency services: Do you feel comfortable calling emergency services? What hospital would you want to go to in a worst case scenario? It’s better that you choose than to have a stranger choose for you. How would you get to the hospital if needed? Do you have any suicide hotlines handy (See the post on depression here for a brief list of hotlines at the end)?

Adding telehealth sessions with therapists, psychiatrists, etc. here as remote support options during this pandemic.

These are not normal times and it’s ok to not be ok. There is a LOT going on right now and that’s not even counting whatever is going on personally for you. It’s ok to acknowledge of realness of the whole situation. Not only is that good for your mental health, it’s good for figuring out what you need and want during all this. Keep your loved ones and your people close to you even if you have to be physically distant from each other. Who is your community? How can people come together to fill the gaps that the government is purposefully neglecting? How can we support each other through this, especially those who are disabled, who have lost jobs, and/or those who are homeless, etc.? Friends checking in and supporting friends, families of all kinds coming together, and communities coalition-building. People can also take this time to build virtual social circles that hopefully can include people who live in your local areas to provide support in an emergency scenario. Maybe donating to individuals’ crowdfunding or to grassroots organizations if you have the means. It’s time to be kind to yourself and to think creatively of the ways that we can stay safe and well, individually and communally in a time when capitalism and white supremacy obviously wants us to be sick and alone.

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