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Ways to Safeguard Your Emotional Health in Stressful Times

As winter arrives and COVID continues to disrupt the pattern of our lives, people living with mental health conditions may feel even more vulnerable than before. In fact, nearly one-third of all people nationwide say their mental health is suffering right now as isolation, job stress, family and financial pressures take their toll.

At NAMI Illinois, we care about you and your loved ones. Here is a review of expert advice on self-care and family support, gathered from the national conversation on mental health. We hope you’ll use these suggestions to take extra good care of yourself and the people you care about.

If You Live with a Mental Health Condition

Seek out a daily routine that works for you. Studies show that, when uncertainty is high, steps such as getting up at the same time, showering and dressing for the day, eating, and exercising at regular times can make you feel stronger. Don’t worry if you can’t do this perfectly every day. Self-compassion is an essential part of your wellness plan, too.

Add simple steps that activate the “rest and digest” response. Extra stress puts our bodies on high alert, which can make mental health symptoms worse. Deep breathing is one of the easiest ways to tap the body’s natural calming powers. This breathing bubble exercise shows you how to get started if you’ve never tried it before. Deep breathing combines well with other stress-fighting practices recommended by health experts.

Keep your (virtual) therapy appointments. Even if you’re doubtful about telehealth at first, you will find that it gets easier with time. Phone and online sessions can keep you connected with your therapist and other wellness providers, and thanks to an executive order put in place by Gov. Pritzker this March, you will not have a co-pay when seeing in-network providers.

Share your wellness plan with family and friends. If you’re feeling terrible right now, the temptation may be to self-isolate, but keeping in touch with your support network is key. Make sure at least two people in your wellness circle are ready to provide support when you need it. Tell them what you’d like them to do if your symptoms get worse. If you don’t have a wellness plan right now, explore ways to create one here.

If You’re a Mental Health Caregiver

Model and share good habits. If you’re taking good care of yourself, the people you support will be encouraged to follow your lead, especially if they live with you. Prioritizing sleep, exercise, regular mealtimes and other healthful practices will help you work as one wellness team.

Collaborate for more peace at home. Start a conversation with your family about the importance of mental health and how that plays out in the space you share. This could mean anything from creating quiet hours for restful sleep to having shared mealtimes to keep everyone on a similar schedule.

Explore caregiver networks. Getting together with people who understand what you’re going through can make all the difference. Check out the online support groups NAMI offers for family, friends and parents. We also have groups for adults living with mental health conditions, including a focused group for LGBTQ+ individuals.

If You Are a Military Veteran or Spouse

November is the month we honor those who have served our country and acknowledge the health challenges that Veterans often face. The National Council on Behavioral Health reports that 30 percent of Vets who served in Iraq or Afghanistan struggle with mental health, but less than 50 percent actually receive care.

The free-floating stress that is so widespread right now can hit even harder if you live with PTSD, depression, anxiety or substance use. The NAMI website has detailed info on Veterans’ mental health, with practical tools to get you started.

For military spouses and partners, NAMI Homefront can be a lifeline of connection, wisdom and support. This program is modeled on our popular NAMI Family-To-Family program and is now available online.

Mental Health First Aid for Veterans, a program of the National Council, can teach you how to notice and respond to signs of mental health and addiction challenges, with a specific focus on the cultural factors related to military life.

Know Where to Find Crisis Support

When things feel unmanageable, NAMI is here for you. Dial the NAMI HelpLine, 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central, Monday through Friday, to speak with a trained volunteer who will listen, answer questions and help you find local resources. You can also email the HelpLine team at info@nami.org.

If you or someone you know is in crisis — whether they are considering suicide or not — call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 anytime, 24/7. Trained specialists will listen to you without judgment, helping you connect with crisis services close to you. You can also text NAMI to 741-741 to receive immediate support via the Crisis Text Line.

For more on suicide prevention and how to help others, visit SuicideIsPreventable.org.

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