Mental Health Month needed now more than ever

Schools have been closed since March 13.

Quarantine has been in effect since March 21.

We've adjusted our celebrations of birthdays, anniversaries, Passover, Easter and Mother's Day and graduations.

And now it's the middle of May - a month that has both taken forever to get here and has shown up without any of the usual markers that prepare us for its arrival.

May is also Mental Health Month, which seems oh-so-appropriate this year. So many have ongoing struggles with mental health issues, which have been exacerbated during this unusual time.

And so many more of us have found the challenges of this pandemic are taking a toll.

We have a story on Page 17 of this issue talking about the struggles our health care professionals are facing and some of the resources that are available to them and the general population.

I thought I'd take some time today to share some of the strategies I use to try to maintain good mental health. Maybe some will resonate with you.

• Practice gratitude

I've kept a gratitude journal for close to two decades. At first I scoffed at the idea as simplistic and ineffective.

I had no understanding of the power it has to refocus your attention on things that are going well, even on the worst days.

• Seek professional help

In a 2013 column titled "My name is Pam, I have a therapist" I admitted, for the first time in print, that I had been seeing a therapist for more than decade. (Previously I had identified all her good advice in my column as coming from a friend.)

I still see her (or have phone conversations with her, as of March) for help with everything from adjusting my perspective on daily matters to coping with major life issues.

• Feel the feelings

In an NPR podcast, Sesame Street's Grover reminds kids of all ages that it's OK to be sad.

"Everybody who is alive gets sad from time to time, and that is OK," he said.

Sadness, anger, frustration. The only way we loosen the hold these emotions have on us is by feeling them and letting them go.

• Seek out diversions

Denial is not a helpful strategy when it comes to dealing with difficult situations, but endless rumination isn't helpful, either. It's also exhausting.

When I find myself immersed too deeply in COVID-19, I take a break. I've enjoyed escaping into Dan Brown novels and episodes of "Lego Masters" and heading outside for some fresh air.

• Help others

"The fragrance always stays in the hand that gives the rose," Hada Bejar writes. So true.

When I reach out to others, by sending a card or making a phone call or dropping off dinner, I help them feel better. I inevitably end up feeling better, too.

• Laugh

"Laughter is the best medicine," the old saying goes. And there's actual evidence that laughter is good for us. It reduces pain, allows us to tolerate discomfort, reduces blood sugar levels and helps blood vessels function better, according to an article in Psychology Today.

Funny cat video, anyone?

• Remember we are all connected

Patrice Karst's "The Invisible String" is a beautiful story at any time - and particularly now. It tells the events of one stormy night when twins learn about the Invisible String from their mom.

"As they slept, they started dreaming of all the Invisible Strings they have, and all of the strings their friends have, and their friends have, and their friends have, until everyone in the world was connected by Invisible Strings.

"And from deep inside, they now could clearly see no one is ever alone."

- Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers

can email her at

[email protected].

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean