by ALEXANDRA RETTER
With emotions from helplessness to fear to sadness arising due to the COVID-19 pandemic, local mental health leaders recommend establishing a routine and being gentle with oneself and others as some ways to stay as mentally healthy as possible.
Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota Counseling Director Annette Krutsch and Zumbro Valley Health Center Director of Clinical Services Heather Geerts recommended that individuals attempt to get some exercise — find an online exercise class or just get outdoors.
Geerts suggested that people maintain a healthy diet that includes many fruits and vegetables and try to avoid foods with a high amount of sugar and fat. She advised individuals to get plenty of sleep as well.
Krutsch, Geerts and Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center Outpatient Mental Health Clinical Director Michelle Monerson recommended that people try to stick to a routine. Establish a new routine if your usual routine has been disrupted by the pandemic, Krutsch suggested.
“Like the rest of the animal world, we’re creatures of habit,” Krutsch shared. “It’s better if we can keep those habits of waking, eating and sleeping in intervals.”
Geerts noted that for those working from home, setting up a workspace that is separate from the rest of the home, such as a table in the living room, can be valuable.
Krutsch advised people to think about the aspects of their lives for which they are grateful. She recommended that individuals consider how they would like to remember what they did during this time period when they reflect on the pandemic in 20 years as well. Krutsch also suggested that people work toward achieving a goal that they have wanted to accomplish but have not had the time to reach. “Wouldn’t it be cool to say, ‘Oh, I learned how to read music … or I started a new habit of writing letters to people I care about?’” Krutsch stated.
Monerson recommended that people recognize that all emotions in response to the pandemic are valid. “I think the important piece initially is to acknowledge that whatever people are feeling right now is OK, and validating that this is hard and challenging, and the uncertainty is real for people,” Monerson said.
Krutsch suggested that people ask for help and support with managing any mental health symptoms that arise. Geerts said it is OK to not feel alright right now and the more difficult feelings people are having in this moment are completely normal. She added that it is good for individuals to ask for help with their mental health, and one does not have to have an official diagnosis to struggle with mental health.
Monerson advised individuals to show themselves kindness. Winona Health chaplain Ronia Frelund also recommended that people be gentle with themselves. “Imagine yourself as a little girl or boy that you love and adore so much,” Frelund shared. “They’re going through the same situation you are. What is the best thing you can tell them without hurting their heart? What is the best thing you can say? Encouraging words. Hopeful words.”
Krutsch recommended that people ask those in their lives for what they need in a straightforward manner. For instance, she said, if someone wants help with cleaning the kitchen or a call from a loved one each evening, they should simply ask for it.
Krutsch suggested that people “look for the helpers,” as Fred Rogers of "Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood" said. She also recommended that individuals do a good deed, such as making a donation to a local business, if they are able.
Krutsch advised individuals to watch out for their neighbors and call those who are not connected with others digitally. Monerson and Geerts suggested that people connect with others as well. “You will never regret extending a hand to somebody during this historical time … and that will help your mental health, too,” Krutsch said.
Krutsch and Winona Health Wellbeing and Engagement Specialist Kelly Brick recommended that people focus on the parts of life that they can control at the moment.
Brick suggested that people try exercises like meditation to calm the mind and do creative activities such as puzzles and crafts.
Krutsch recommended that people limit their exposure to the news. Monerson also suggested that people take breaks from the news.
Monerson and Geerts recommended that people avoid excessive consumption of alcohol and drugs. Monerson also suggested that individuals avoid excessive consumption of food and behaviors such as shopping online a great deal.
“I think the key is trying to get through the moment with as much compassion for yourself and others as possible while also trying to maintain healthy routines with food, sleeping and connecting with people, as well as recognizing that emotions are going to be difficult right now because the reality of the situation is pretty challenging,” Monerson said.
An additional resource is the Minnesota mental health crisis line, which can be reached by calling 1-844-274-7472 or texting "MN" to 741 741. Another resource is Winona Health’s “Coping with COVID-19” webpage at https://www.winonahealth.org/resources-2/coping-with-covid-19/.
More information about the Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center may be found at https://www.hvmhc.org/. More information about the Zumbro Valley Health Center may be found at https://www.zvhc.org/. Learn more about Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota at https://www.ccsomn.org/winona/.