Christine Macbeth: Don't try to go it alone

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PITTSFIELD — Everyone is feeling the terrible strain of this unprecedented crisis. We're deeply worried about the most essential aspect of life — our health and the health of those we love. But there are so many other things that trouble us, as well.

People in our community are facing an uncertain financial future and worry about paying bills, putting food on the table and caring for their families. We don't know when this will end, or what new challenges we will face when it's over. And above all, many of us are experiencing all of this anxiety in isolation, as the pandemic forces a necessary shutdown of busy, connected lives.

It's hard for everyone, but especially for those living with mental illness and addiction. Their lives were already filled with many difficult struggles before the coronavirus pandemic added exponentially to their daily challenge.

At the Brien Center, we have done our best to remain open for business. As always, I am deeply grateful for an exceptional staff who have found creative ways to continue helping those who depend on us for care.

A TRUSTED OUTLET

At the moment, 65 percent of our clinicians and counselors are working from home. They're keeping appointments with our clients by phone so that treatment and recoveries continue. The phone calls also give our clients a trusted outlet where they can express their increased anxieties and get good advice about strategies to cope.

With schools closed, Brien counselors who work in those settings are also staying in touch with children and their families by phone and social media, and are sending along care bags of activities that families can work on together.

Our Crisis Team is fully staffed and continues to answer all emergency calls by phone when it's appropriate, and in person if a higher level of care is needed. All of our residential housing is fully staffed, and our offices are still open for clients receiving daily doses of medication. Our website details all of the modifications to services at briencenter.org.

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During a very abnormal time, we're trying to keep things as normal as possible at the Brien Center by staying in touch with our clients. It occurred to us that this tactic may serve a much wider audience.

You've already learned many lessons about maintaining your physical health during a viral pandemic by constant hand-washing, social distancing and staying home as much as possible. To keep our immune systems at full throttle, we've been advised to eat well, get some daily exercise and try to get a good night's sleep. But to maintain your mental health and resilience for the weeks ahead, please expand your self-care routine even more. Here are a few tips:

Have a daily connection to someone in your support system. That could be a family member living around the corner, or around the world. Or a dear friend, neighbor, or co-worker. Talk with someone every day about what's happening, or just catch up. Talking things out helps to ease anxiety and makes us feel less alone.

Maintain your own well-being. There are any number of support groups online, including AA, Al-Anon and groups dedicated to health, exercise, meditation — literally just about everything. People home with their children can also find many online activities for them, too. Many of these groups have geared up their platforms to welcome new attendees who can't physically go to meetings, gyms or to other activities during the coronavirus crisis. Having a little structure to our day can also help us feel more connected and keep stress at bay.

KEEP NEWS IN PERSPECTIVE

Give the news a rest every now and then. We are bombarded in every direction by alarming statistics and sad stories that make our own anxieties more acute. Rather than trying to consume coronavirus news from every available media outlet all day, limit your exposure to just catching up on essential information. And try to keep it all in perspective.

Be kind. Kindness is always recommended, but it's truly important during times like these. When we take the focus away from our fears and do something nice for someone else, it reminds us of our own compassion and the power we have to make life a little better for others.

Christine Macbeth, ACSW, LICSW, is the president and CEO of the Brien Center.


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