Everyone is struggling with mental health right now. A friend recently asked me via email if I was okay. Too often, I reply to this question with an answer that doesn’t hint at how I’m actually feeling. This time, I chose to give her the honest answer: I don’t know if I am okay.

By leaving Japan to return to the United States, I chose to throw myself into uncertainty, especially with the job market. In pre-COVID times, such a choice understandably wreaks havoc on someone’s mental health; a pandemic only exacerbates that. While I admit that I have not always been on top of my health game, I have been doing my best to prioritize my health during this time.

How I’m Prioritizing My Mental Health In A Pandemic 

Maintaining Relationships With Friends

I have been working to maintain my relationships with friends, especially after returning home from abroad. Unfortunately, I have found that I have drifted apart from some people that I was once close to as a result of my changing interests and the extended amount of time I spent out of the United States. However, I have been working on maintaining my relationships with the friends who remain.

For me, this means setting aside time to catch up with friends via an online video platform and reaching out to others via social media or email. This ensures that I have some form of social interaction with others rather than staring at a computer screen all day for an extended period of time doing volunteer work as I continue to look for full-time positions. 

Working Out

It’s no secret that science has proven that physical exercise can help with someone’s mental health. I am someone who needs physical exercise for her mental health. When I don’t exercise, I notice a considerable difference in my mood, eating habits, and ability to concentrate. The current pandemic has had a distinct effect on the mental health of millions. Exercising is one thing that I can control, one thing that I can do in the midst of these times of uncertainty that has a direct impact on my mental health.

I would be lying if I said that I manage to get a workout in every day, but I can’t deny the positive effect my exercise regimen has had. 

Getting Enough Sleep for my Mental Health

One of the many things the pandemic has made clear to me (and millions of others) is the importance of sleep. I wish I could tell you that I am a night owl a la my days as an undergraduate, but I need a full 8 hours of sleep in order to function.

Although I want to be that diurnal person who wakes up at 4 or 5 and gets a workout and meditation session in before breakfast, I have learned to respect my body’s limits and let it get the sleep it needs, especially since sleep has been proven to help boost the body’s immune system.

Journaling

While journaling may not be everyone’s favorite thing, I have always loved writing. I find it extremely cathartic to express my emotions on a blank page knowing that I won’t be judged for the emotions I’m experiencing, whatever they may be at the time.

In the midst of a pandemic, journaling has been extremely comforting because of the sheer amount of time I spend alone. I don’t set limits on how much I journal or what I write; it is an authentic reflection of how I feel at a particular moment in time.

Writing has always allowed me to sort out my thoughts; sometimes journaling even helps me clarify how I feel just by seeing the words I’ve written on the page. It helps me unload some of what I’m thinking so that I don’t get overwhelmed, something that has been priceless in these uncertain times.

Meditating

Yes, I am one of those people who is jumping on the meditation bandwagon. While I wouldn’t call myself a consistent meditator, there is something soothing about starting the day with a few moments of silence before charging headfirst into your to-do list.

I started meditating in earnest when I first moved to Taiwan in 2017 and continued the practice as I moved to Tokyo a year later. As much as I loved Tokyo, the hustle and bustle was very different from the small city of Changhua; meditation gave me consistency, and a welcome reprieve from the white noise of the city.

After relocating yet again, meditation is one of those things that I clung to for routine, and I have continued to see benefits, even after 5 minutes a day.

This pandemic has been draining on everyone in a multitude of ways. I’m sure none of us could have envisioned that we would be in the midst of a global pandemic around this time a year ago. In uncertain times like these, prioritizing your physical and mental health is more important than ever before.

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