Mental Health Check In With Rachel Gersten
Rachel Gersten is a licensed therapist and the co-founder of Viva Wellness, a mental health practice & wellness company based in Brooklyn. She believes that a healthy lifestyle looks different on everyone, and works closely with clients to help them achieve goals that are realistic for them. When she’s not busy working, you can find her running in Central Park, cheering on her sports teams, or thinking about the next time she’s going to eat.
What are your top tips for maintaining mental health at a time like this?
I’ve created a “rule” that I use with clients who are going through a personal crisis (even when we’re not in a pandemic!) and looking for guidance in how to cope and get through it: nothing that lands you in the hospital or gets you arrested. Everything else goes!
This is, of course, meant to be a little funny but it’s also accurate. There’s no road map for how to handle a situation like this because we’ve never been here. So my biggest tip would be to do whatever feels right to you. You want to sleep later and your schedule allows for it? Perfect. Need to exercise midday? Great! Get the urge to scrub every inch of your apartment? Sounds good, and you’re not alone because I did the exact same thing. Adding extra pressure to stick to what you “should” be doing isn’t ever helpful, but especially not right now when everything is so much harder.
After that, I would say to maintain as much joy in your life as you can. A lot of what we love has been canceled (at least for now!). Hold on to whatever you’re still able to participate in and make sure that doesn’t fall by the wayside.
Lastly, I would say to really prioritize your own well being. It’s easy to let our mental health (and health in general) fall to the end of the to do list, and that might be sustainable for a while in normal times, but it definitely isn’t sustainable now. Take care of yourself first, even if that’s just in small ways like making sure you’re eating well or taking a break when you feel overwhelmed.
What are some of the common themes you’re seeing in people dealing with this pandemic, and how are you helping them to navigate it?
Even the most spontaneous, go with the flow person doesn’t like to live in a world with this much uncertainty where they can’t even plan two weeks in advance if they wanted to. We like to feel as if we have some control over what’s happening to us and right now, we don’t. It’s incredibly stressful and on top of that, a lot of our coping mechanisms that we use for stressful situations aren’t available to us. We’re all working towards figuring out this temporary normal, but that’s difficult as well because we aren’t really sure how long we’re going to be doing this for. People are not meant to be living this way at all.
I’ve been working hard to reassure my clients that it’s okay to be frustrated, sad, angry, scared, or anything else that comes up. That’s not going to go away. We can manage those feelings, but they’re going to still be around. It’s a global pandemic! We’re supposed to be scared! But if we can shift that energy away from trying to “get rid of” those emotions and more towards coping, it’s a much better use of energy. Attempting to make feelings, especially ones that are very appropriate for the situation, is kind of like trying to make it stop raining. It’s not going to happen. It’s probably better to just grab an umbrella and make it work. Instead of “Why am I feeling this way?” ask yourself “What do I need right now because I am feeling this way?”.
What do you do daily to help upkeep your own mental health?
Running! That’s the obvious answer here, right?! Exercise has always been huge for me in getting through the day, and I’m so glad to be able to have it now. I’ve also been making sure to maintain some connection with family and friends while also paying attention to (and honoring) the times that I need to unplug and go off the grid for a while. Something small that has really made a difference is “getting dressed” for work days. Don’t get me wrong, I’m 100% in sweatpants, but I’m still doing my hair, putting make-up on, and getting ready as if I’m going to work in real pants. It helps me feel more alert and productive since there’s still a distinction between work days and the weekends.
What resources do you recommend people looking out for in the wake of this pandemic, or are they any tools that you especially recommend?
The good news is that there are a lot of options available, depending on what works for you! I love the Peloton app for pretty much everything – even if you don’t have the bike! There are guided runs, strength classes, stretching, yoga, and more. I love their restorative yoga especially for a mental health and movement break. They have meditation classes as well, and if that’s your jam, Headspace is also really great. Shine is another great app for stress and anxiety. Journaling is a good tool if you naturally feel better processing emotions while writing, and it’s a good practice to get into if you want to unwind for bed without watching TV or looking at your screens.
If you aren’t already seeing a therapist, you can also get started now, even when things are totally upside down. Therapists should be providing telehealth sessions either by phone or video with the option to transition to in person once all of this is over. I also have to do a shameless plug for my own business, Viva Wellness! We’re accepting new therapy clients and have a bunch of resources on our website (vivawellnessnyc.com) on all different wellness topics.
At the end of the day, it’s all about what works for you and makes it even just a little easier to make it through this difficult time. Whatever you choose, just remember, you CAN do this!