Maintaining Your Mental Health in Tough Times

May 19, 2021

Everyone goes through difficult times emotionally and physically. But sometimes the biggest challenge of all is being able to ask for help—or simply acknowledging that you need it.

In this post, E.A. Casey, a second-year Master of Social Work student and intern at Iona, shares some tips for finding sources of support as you navigate the hurdles of life.

  1. Take a friendventory—an inventory of the people in your life. Who are the people you feel you can trust or look to for input on matters? Take stock of your relationships and think about them in a practical way. A friend who is a good listener might be excellent for providing social support, while a neighbor might be better for lending practical support (such as giving you a ride to a medical appointment.) These are the people you should embrace as part of your support system.
  2. Pull your relationships tighter. One way to strengthen your support system is to offer support to others. Consider the ways that people have shown up for you in life and then think about how you might return the favor. For example, call to check in on your friends, or offer to drop a meal off at their house.
  3. Be intentional in cultivating your support system. This is especially important for people who don’t have good sources of support. Focus on two tracks: 1) Taking stock of what support you do have and 2) putting a practice in place for finding more support. Perhaps you have a cousin or schoolmate you used to be close with. Set a weekly goal for strengthening that relationship—maybe a 15 minute call or email. Whatever you do, set concrete goals around keeping in touch with people.
  4. Build new relationships with people. It’s never too late to add new people to your support network. Put yourself in situations and in a frame of mind where you can meet other people. For example, try an Around Town DC class, look for community programs, or get involved with a cause you care about.
  5. Keep yourself physically healthy. This supports your ability to connect with others. Start practicing self-care by engaging in pleasant or stimulating activities. Also, maintain a positive frame of mind—this makes it easier to connect with people and gives you something to connect about.
  6. Don’t wait until it’s a crisis situation. Try to be anticipatory—don’t wait until you absolutely need it. If you can, do some early problem solving by collaborating with a friend. How do they think about or deal with issues? This can also be an opportunity to directly ask for help.
  7. Seek out formal sources of support. In Washington, DC, there are many resources for older adults—including Senior Villages, Mutual Aid, Iona’s Helpline, and Aging Solo. The AARP Foundation also offers helpful information and solutions for social isolation.

In the same way that we are proactive and intentional around our physical or financial health, we need to do same for our social health. It takes practice and is a muscle that needs to be continually exercised. Keep making connections, and don’t be afraid to ask for help!

 E.A. Casey is finishing their final year of Catholic University’s clinical MSW program. Casey also holds a Master of Public Affairs and is currently a strategic advisor at AARP Foundation, where they have led the development and implementation of national strategies and programs to combat isolation and loneliness among vulnerable older adults.