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Kansas City behavioral health expert offers healthy coping exercises for mental health struggles

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Posted at 7:16 PM, Aug 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-14 20:16:50-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo — From COVID-19 fatigue and isolation to loss of loved ones and social unrest, the last year has been tough on the well-being of many people. But Roxanne Pendleton with Truman Medical Center Behavioral Health, and crisis counselor for Missouri’s “Show Me Hope” counseling program, says human beings are resilient and there are ways to cope and heal.

“I think right now, most people are really tired," Pendleton said. "They are feeling the effects of compounded grief and the prolonged stress, and they’re probably experiencing some burnout? Maybe even a little moral distress? There’s a lot of heartbreak right now.”

According to this year’s report by a community-based non-profit, Mental Health America, people struggling with anxiety increased in 2020 by 93% from 2019. For people with depression, it jumped by 62%.

Pendelton says when feeling overwhelmed, the first thing someone should do is be able to process their emotions. Anyone can achieve this by following two rules of thumb: acknowledge how they feel and move their body.

“So you might say, ‘My shoulders are tight, my stomach feels sick, my throat feels like I wanna cry,'” Pendleton said. “I like to call it ‘Name it and tame it.’”

This calms the areas of the brain that cause one to feel distress. Instead, it brings energy into the reasoning part of the brain to help rationalize and think clearly. The second step is what Pendleton likes to call “Move it to lose it.”

“If we move our bodies, we are designed to burn off those chemicals by fighting or fleeing,” Pendleton explained.

This allows humans to process pain in a healthy way instead of looking to other coping mechanisms to numb the negative feelings. According to data from a recent U.S. panel survey, 13.3% of people older than 18 who responded say they increased or initiated substance abuse during the pandemic.

“We consume caffeine to get through one more day," Pendleton said. "We might consume other substances to numb the pain.”

While it is important to create personal boundaries, it is also important to remember humans are social creatures. Pendleton says strong, smart, successful people know how to reach out for help when they need it. But in a period of isolation and quarantine, there are helpful ways to trick one's nervous system.

“So you could actually put your hand on your sternum and just gently press — just as though you would get pressed in a good hug. Or, you can wrap yourself and squeeze,” Pendleton said.

Another helpful method in calming one's self down is a practice called Mindful Self Compassion. It asks individuals to do three things: acknowledge how they are feeling, recognize they are not alone and give and receive kindness.

Local Resources for Mental Health:

Disaster Distress Helpline

Truman Medical Center / University Health 24/7 Crisis Line

24/7 Crisis Text Line