2020 has forced everyone to endure the most challenging times that we have seen in generations.

The combination of COVID-19, an economic downturn, and a contentious political atmosphere has left people across the country struggling to maintain their mental health.

We will certainly overcome these substantial obstacles, but we must take care of ourselves and support those who are struggling. In the short term, it is important to follow healthy daily routines including eating at normal hours, maintaining a normal sleep schedule, and most importantly, regularly exercising.

As the executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – Texas, I have heard from so many individuals and families across the state who are experiencing stress, anxiety, depression, substance abuse issues and economic uncertainty from job loss. The statistics show that the mental health of Americans is in peril right now – 53 percent of adults in the U.S. reported that their mental health had been negatively impacted over the coronavirus, 36 percent are reporting difficulty sleeping, 32 percent are having eating challenges, 12 percent are experiencing increases in alcohol consumption or substance use, and 12 percent are reporting increases in other chronic health conditions. These are alarming stats, but we can begin to reverse them with good daily habits.

At NAMI, we offer families and individuals classes and tools to support those facing mental health challenges, but there are basic steps that anyone can take to help maintain their well-being. Getting active is an important step in the process of taking care of ourselves. People are more isolated than ever and are simply moving less because they are, for the most part, no longer going out into the world for work or to socialize. Exercising provides crucial stress relief and, during this pandemic and recession, managing stress is more important than ever. Exercise also helps to prevent chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes, which can contribute to poor mental health.

Fitness could be anything from a walk around the block, simple stretches or riding a bike through the neighborhood. During the pandemic, the way we exercise is adapting. Gyms are implementing clear, and in some cases, enhanced health and safety precautions for indoor operations, fitness classes are moving outdoors to allow for social distancing, and people are wearing masks, particularly if they are close to others while walking and running. It does not matter how you get active; it is just important that you honestly account for yourself and how you can improve or maintain your physical wellbeing and your mental health.

Here in Texas, our leaders must prioritize wellness for everyone across the state and encourage people to safely exercise during COVID. We have been hit hard by this pandemic and our local leaders have an opportunity to educate the public about how they can live healthy lives during these uncertain times. We must have every tool available to combat the coronavirus and come out of this year stronger and healthier.

If you or a loved one is experiencing any mental health issues, do not hesitate to reach out to National Alliance on Mental Illness – Texas, where we will provide resources to help. We offer support groups and classes free of charge statewide. 

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Greg Hansch, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness–Texas. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the author’s permission. Hansch can be reached via email at: [email protected]

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