Taking time for mental wellness

Therapists share tools and strategies for coping with shelter-in-place.
Robert Johnson is a practicing licensed marriage and family therapist. Photo courtesy of Robert Johnson.
Robert Johnson is a practicing licensed marriage and family therapist. Photo courtesy of Robert Johnson.
Hollister native Sheilah Cameron is a practicing licensed marriage and family therapist in San Diego. Photo courtesy of Sheilah Cameron.
Hollister native Sheilah Cameron is a practicing licensed marriage and family therapist in San Diego. Photo courtesy of Sheilah Cameron.
Jacqueline Bautista is the school psychologist for San Benito High School. Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Bautista.
Jacqueline Bautista is the school psychologist for San Benito High School. Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Bautista.

The world has undergone significant changes since the coronavirus pandemic began, but one constant is the need to put mental health and wellness at the forefront. Though people’s lives have been shaken at their foundations, upending routines of everyday normalcy, mental health professionals believe some good can come out of the situation as people have had to slow down to reflect on their own lives. 

“COVID has not just brought up the panic and hysteria of a pandemic, but behind each person is a person with their own issues that they are going through,” said Robert Johnson, a practicing licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) in Hollister. “During normal life many of your feelings, relationships, and situations that are difficult that you are able to repress, COVID has brought up.”

Johnson elaborated on this and said that in the background of people’s lives are anxiety, depression, family issues, and more. These factors act like water boiling in a pot. Add in COVID-19 and sheltering-in-place, and for some people the increased pressure has caused the water to spill over.

Sheilah Cameron, a Hollister native who is a practicing LMFT in San Diego, has also seen the pressure increase in the everyday lives of her clients. 

“Even clients who had not struggled with anxiety prior to COVID-19 are now beginning to experience anxiety symptoms,” Cameron said. “Many clients are seeking ways to cope with excessive worry, lack of concentration, insomnia, irritability and anxiety attacks. Many have also expressed interest in exploring psychotropic medication.”

What tools and strategies can people practice to focus on mental wellness? Johnson, Cameron, and San Benito High School Psychologist Jacqueline Bautista, recommend focusing on creating a new routine while at home, connecting with loved ones and friends, engaging in physical fitness, maintaining appropriate nutrition, and getting adequate sleep every night. 

“It’s so, so important to stay connected in creative ways to those that you love, whether that be through Zoom happy hours, book clubs, or playing games via Google Hangout or FaceTime,” Cameron said. “Another great way to cope might be to focus on learning a new skill, such as gardening, crafting or cooking, or contributing to a greater cause such as volunteering, or helping a neighbor in need.”

Fostering mental wellness is about noting the positive aspects of one’s life, as opposed to focusing on factors that increase fear, anxiety and depression.

“It’s not all negative,” Johnson said. “It’s a good time to reflect and incorporate gratitude into your life. A lot of people have woken up to the fact that their life is way too fast, and slowing down and being with family is such a blessing.”

Reflecting on parents being home with their children while schools are closed, Bautista said it’s also a great time for parents and their children to connect.

“Parents should take this time to get closer to their children and their daily lives,” she said. “Students will feel more apt to share with their parents if they are more engaged in their lives.”

Enhanced connection can benefit children and parents. It can open a door to communication if a child is struggling with anxiety and/or depression during shelter-in-place.

Bautista said that while some students may disengage from the distance learning process and treat this time as summer break that’s come early, others are experiencing anxiety and stress.

“Their lives have been upended,” Bautista said. “For many, they are now the ones responsible for getting their work done. They feel lost and they’re realizing they need someone to help them.”

For many teens, Johnson said, the lack of in-person peer contact makes it difficult for students who are starting to “fly from the nest.”

“Their peer support group is very influential and formative with who they are.”  

Bautista stressed that local schools can help struggling students and their parents to navigate this difficult time.

“It’s important for parents [and students] to know we are here to help,” Bautista said. “If it is not a service we can provide, we direct them to the right service provider.”

Cameron said that people sheltering in place with special needs, those with substance abuse issues, those in violent relationships, and those struggling with mental illness, all need extra support these days.

“If you have domestic violence in a home and you are at home, you are in a war zone,” Johnson said. 

Resources addressing domestic violence are available both inside and outside San Benito County. If anyone’s safety is in danger, call 9-1-1. 

In times of fear, danger, anxiety, and depression, it is important to avoid self-isolation and instead reach out for help and resources. This is especially important for people who struggle with mental health issues. 

“It is okay to talk about your issues and have other means of emotional processing and stress reduction,” said Johnson. “That can come in the form of a trusted friend, a religious leader, a community, or a mental health professional.”

“Prioritizing mental health is so important because when we prioritize our relationship with ourself, we can have healthy and enriched relationships with others,” Cameron said. “When we become aware of our cognitions, we can be intentional with our behaviors. This is especially true while we are sheltering in place because we are either sheltering alone, which can be isolating, or sheltering with others, which can be triggering.”

Johnson, Cameron and Bautista all stressed that people need to recognize that self-care and being kind to oneself and others is key during the pandemic.

“Please realize that stress, anxiety and sadness is normal right now,” Carmeron said. “You are experiencing all of these emotions because you are human and we are going through something very difficult. Also know that how you are feeling will not last forever. It’s important that you acknowledge your emotions daily, and also attempt to create a routine of practicing gratitude daily.”

Johnson took the idea one step further. “It’s OK to cowboy up and be resilient. It’s also important to take seriously your psychological and mental well-being. It’s not weak, it is smart.”

Local mental health resources

  • San Benito County Behavioral Health provides mental health and substance use disorder services. They are currently hosting live webinars every Friday to help with stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues. 
  • Go to Psychology Today for a list of local health professionals and local therapists. If none of the local providers are taking new clients, use the website to find a provider in a different city, as many are offering sessions on Zoom and other video conferencing platforms. 
  • Reach out to your spiritual community, whether that be peers or leaders.
  • San Benito County Esperanza Center. According to its website, the center’s mission is to provide clients with “positive reinforcement, wellness and assertiveness to promote recovery and encourage happiness. In the path of recovery to wellness, our mission is one of perseverance to reach our goal and to not worry but be happy.”

National mental health resources

Resources for parents and students

  • Parents, call your child’s school and ask to speak to a counselor and/or school psychologist, depending on your school’s resources.
  • Visit the SBHS Student Wellness Site. This website provides links to videos and podcasts, wellness activities, wellness challenges, and offers a virtual relaxation room.


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Becky Bonner

Becky Bonner is a local teacher at San Benito High School who is passionate about sharing things to do in San Benito County.