Health is not merely the absence of disease, and wellness comes in many forms, including physical, mental, and emotional health. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many of us to change the way we live, work, and communicate. Our lives have been impacted in ways that are difficult to describe. In addition, the recent tragic and traumatic events that have taken the lives of several members of the Black community is impacting the ways we interact with family, friends, partners, and colleagues.

As people are grappling with all these changes, many are struggling to cope. The pressure to advocate for racial justice and cope during a pandemic feels surreal. From social distancing guidelines to social media outcries; this is a tough time for all of us.

It may be difficult to articulate what you need from others. It may be difficult to connect. As stress levels increase, it is extremely important that we think about healthy ways to cope with our thoughts and feelings. Here are a few coping strategies to consider:

1. Acknowledge that none of this is normal

Racial, gender, and sexuality injustices are not normal. Living during a pandemic is not normal. It is okay to acknowledge that you do not feel like your typical self during these times. It is okay to acknowledge that these times are painful, frustrating, and confusing. It is okay to acknowledge that you are not sure how to respond. It is okay to take the time you need to process what you are feeling.

2. Establish boundaries with social media and news outlets

For some people, staying in tune with media outlets is helpful. For others, too much exposure is detrimental to one’s mental and emotional health. Know what you can handle, then set some boundaries. Be intentional about protecting your mind from all the messages that are being broadcasted multiple times a day.

3. Write down your feelings in a personal journal

Often, we turn to social media, text messages, phone calls, and in-person conversations to discuss our thoughts. It may be helpful to go to a quiet place and write down your thoughts. Read those thoughts as they sit on paper, and then write some more. This is a great way to reflect on all the events that have taken place. This is a great first step in deciding how you would like to respond to others and what actions (if any) you decide to take. There are many messages about what to do, but the decision to do anything is yours.

4. Engage in activities that bring you pleasure

Finding joy and experiencing pleasure can give your mood a much-needed boost. There are many activities that are enjoyable such as singing, dancing, laughing, exercising, meditating, etc. There are also many activities that bring pleasure. Whatever it is that brings you joy and pleasure, do it. Your body and  mind will thank you.

As we all try to respond to the collective trauma that we are experiencing, let’s remember to take good care of ourselves. Now is a great time to be patient with yourself and others, as you figure out what works best for you. Practice giving yourself space to grieve and cope. And when you can, communicate what you need to those closest to you.

Ashley Townes

Ashley Townes

PhD, MPH, Epidemiologist at Centers for Disease Control
Dr. Ashley Townes (she/her/hers), is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio. She attended Walnut Hills High School and the University of Cincinnati, where she received both her Bachelors and Master of Public Health degrees. She received her doctorate degree in Health Behavior and Epidemiology from Indiana University. Dr. Townes has experience working as a Community Health Educator and Disease Intervention Specialist in Cincinnati and the surrounding areas. She has worked on several initiatives related to the dissemination of national HIV prevention and care campaign materials tailored for African Americans, Hispanic/Latinx, and transgender women of color. Dr. Townes has taught collegiate-level Human Sexuality courses, served as an Epidemiologist at the Ohio Department of Health, and currently works as an ORISE Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention’s Epidemiology Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, GA. Ashley’s research background includes work on the sexual experiences of African American/Black women accessing health information and utilizing sexual health services. In 2018, she received grant funding from the Patty Brisben Foundation for Women’s Sexual Health to translate sexual health research data into educational materials. Her career interests are aimed at providing quality sexual education and working towards health equity.