Right now the coronavirus vaccine is on everyone’s mind. Where to get the vaccine and when it is available and to whom are important issues as we try to get a grip on this pandemic.
The result of an unprecedented, cooperative effort by scientists from many nations, the vaccine in its various forms is purported to be highly effective in preventing COVID-19 or, at the very least, reducing its severity. The vaccine — whenever we can get it — will save lives and protect health.
What if there were a kind of vaccine to preserve mental health?
Perhaps, in a metaphorical sense, there is.
Unfortunately there’s no drug that can prevent major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder or other serious and chronic mental illnesses. Thank goodness there are many drugs that can treat them and their symptoms.
But we can “vaccinate” ourselves against the emotional distress everyday life can bring by lifestyle choices, refocusing energy, and reframing our thoughts. Overcoming a serious mental disorder requires a commitment to long-range treatment, often including medication; not just an attitude adjustment. But achieving greater peace of mind — mental wellness — is something we can all aspire to.
Peace of mind can waver when misfortune strikes or disappointment pulls the rug out from under us. These are normal experiences that we really can’t hope to avoid. Our response is all we can control.
I’m so impressed by friends who’ve lost a spouse to a tragic accident or disease yet continue to face life with courage. At a time when simply getting out of bed in the morning is an accomplishment, they make healthy meals, take walks and reach out to friends. These efforts are no less than heroic. In the midst of their grief they are determined to maintain their mental wellness with everyday lifestyle choices.
Loss doesn’t have to mean you stop caring about yourself and others.
If someone can care for themselves in spite of devastating loss, surely we can face challenges with determination as well. Right now I’m preparing for major surgery: total knee replacement. I’ll admit I’m scared sometimes; of the pain and of being temporarily handicapped. Patience is not necessarily my strong suit, and I’ll know I’ll need a lot of it for recovery. But I’m trying to focus on preparation. Pre-operative testing, medical clearance, pre-surgical Zoom instruction are filling the weeks before the operation.
Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go, so I’m glad to have activities to focus that energy on. And of course, post-surgically I’ll be busy with physical therapy and slowly regaining strength. Recovery will be a full-time job.
Reframing thoughts is another way to maintain mental wellness. “It all depends on the way you look at it” is a cliché that contains a lot of truth. We can combat fear with logic and apprehension with experience.
The person worried about catching COVID-19 can remind himself he’s doing all he can to prevent exposure (masking, socially distancing, washing hands) and that help is on the way in the form of the vaccine.
Someone afraid of public speaking can remind herself that she’s articulate and has never had a problem expressing herself to individuals. As my mother used to say, sometimes you need to give yourself a pep talk.
Mental wellness — the ability to go with the flow and cope with life’s curve balls — is something we can all work towards. I hope you inoculate yourself with self-care as energetically as you seek out the Coronavirus vaccine. Sometimes prevention is the best cure.