How to Protect Your Mental Health In a Pandemic: Live With Psychotherapist Nneka Symister, LCSW
Understatement of the year: This pandemic has been one hell of an ass-kicker for moms. Due to factors like job losses and loss of childcare — both moms who work full time and stay-at-home moms alike — have found themselves taking on enormous workloads and roles they’d never expected to before. The seemingly never-ending purgatory of quarantine has led to many mothers feeling more anxious, and wondering how it will feel to re-enter society once the world goes “back to normal.” These are the kinds of issues and challenges that mothers write into Not Safe For Mom Group (nsfmg) about every day. And while it is important to elevate and address these often difficult conversations, it can also be helpful to talk to experts who might have some ideas about how we can cope.
It’s been especially hard for many of us to “cope” because so many of our usual outlets are not accessible to us. We reached out to psychotherapist Nneka Symister, who specializes in helping women and couples who suffer with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, miscarriage and loss. Nneka joined us on our Instagram Live today to answer questions from our community, and dropped so many truth bombs, we just had to share. Here are some of our favorite words of wisdom from Nneka on how to protect your mental health during a pandemic — or, any time for that matter.
Words of Wisdom for Moms During Covid:
“Question your thoughts.”
Many of us have been describing the really crappy ways we’ve been feeling in terms of clinical diagnosis rather than . . . crappy feelings. Unless a clinician has actually diagnosed you, it’s probably not a great idea to label yourself as having a diagnosis. For example, you may not have “anxiety”, you may just be “anxious”. (In other words, talk to a clinician/therapist instead of self-diagnosing).
“It’s almost like going back to the first day of school — take it little by little.”
How are we going to re-enter normal life? Nneka suggests a soft approach of testing the waters first. She advises her postpartum patients who are about to re-enter the workforce to first practice taking a few hours away from their babies a couple times a week prior to going back to work. It would be cruel to yourself if you were to go from isolation to say, a concert without any in-between.
“What’s the lesser evil?”
When faced with two choices within which there is not a perfect one, ask yourself which one does the most harm and choose the other one. For example, if you are suffering and need support but refusing to ask for help because you’re afraid of exposure to another human — ask yourself what the lesser evil is: The possibility of infection (let’s assume you take precautions and wear masks, wash hands, etc.) versus the possibility that you suffer a mental break and can’t take care of your baby.
“One sentence can shift the conversation — Go left instead of going right.”
When Nneka hears from couples who have been struggling during quarantine, and who say that they’re “communicating all the time, but it just isn’t getting them anywhere,” she asks: Have you changed anything in your communication style? Her advice is to CHANGE ONE THING in the way you communicate. Just one thing. Otherwise we are on a broken record, fated to repeat itself time and time again. More communication will never result in something better if we’re doing the same thing that hasn’t worked. The communication has to be different.
“You are more important than your children. YOU TAKE CARE OF THEM!”
Controversial but SO GOOD AND TRUE. Nneka’s philosophy is that “the mom is more important than the baby” because if Mom can’t take care of herself, then she is of no use to her baby. We need to put ourselves, and our needs first, in order to be humans with the capacity to take care of others who depend on us.
“Did you call your village?”
A lot of folks say that they didn’t get help when they needed it from friends or family, but Nneka implores us to ask ourselves, did we ask our village for help? No one is a mind reader, and even though so many of us fear that we might be overstepping by asking folks to assist us, Nneka reminds us that we “are not responsible for other peoples’ boundaries.” People will tell us what they are capable of, and can tell us no if they can’t do something. If we assume the ‘no’ we will be left with zero help, and where does that leave us?
Watch the whole live here!
If you love Nneka’s advice as much as we do, check her out over at mylocaltherapist.org. Nneka has more than a decade of experience working with clients of diverse backgrounds, including BIPOC and LGBTQIA. She also has an extensive background working with fathers, couples, teens and women who suffer from perinatal diagnoses.