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Self Care, Mental Health, and the Boston Marathon

This month, we provide some recommendations for taking care of your mental health as the onset of spring and the 2023 Boston Marathon approaches.

This April, Boston and Massachusetts residents will once again anticipate and celebrate the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest yearly marathon event.  The combination of athleticism, local pride, outdoor revelry, and community and charity contribution through sponsoring the runners makes for an excellent way to enter the spring season.  For some, however, the events of the Boston Marathon Bombing ten years ago may still be felt today.   They may still be troubled by memories of the violence, whether witnessed directly or through media exposure.   The week-long manhunt and news coverage, culminating in the lockdown that Friday leading to the capture of the surviving attacker, also left many feeling unsafe. 

Survivors have received public support but also reported struggling with accessing mental health care, recent legislation passed to expand immediate access to mental health support for domestic terrorism and disaster survivors.   For those who bore witness to the violence but did not experience it directly, it can be challenging to know what to do with those memories and feelings, or to even recognize them as related.  It is worth noting as well that the onset of spring weather alone, outside of the oncoming anniversary, is shown to be linked to increased rates of depression and anxiety.

If you have found yourself feeling down, whether in relation to the marathon or not, we encourage you to start by checking in on yourself day to day for at least a few minutes, starting with physical sensations. Are you noticing regular tension in your chest?  Having difficulty focusing at work or at home day to day?   Have you been experiencing interrupted or restless sleep?   Are you experiencing unwanted vivid memories, whether of the events or other negative memories? If you are experiencing any combination of these feelings, it may be beneficial to consider some targeted self-care. We recommend the following:

  • Monitor your diet and water intake. People often seek comfort in carbohydrate and sugar heavy foods when stressed, which can fuel more fatigue and anxiety. Exercise is always beneficial as well. Regular physical activity, from running and weightlifting to a straightforward 30 minute walk, will raise your energy level and your capacity for coping with stress. City of Boston Employees should be sure to check out the Boston Wellness Portal and Burnalong pages for recipes, free classes, and more. 
  • Share your feelings and connect with a loved one. Having a safe person to sit with and vent with together can be very cathartic.
  • Practice a meditative breathing exercise. We recommend 5-10 minutes of this method, which can calm racing thoughts and lower your heart rate. Other anxiety reduction and grounding exercises at home can include wrapping yourself in a blanket for a length of 5-10 minutes, grounding your feet into a soft rug or bathmat. More can be found online.
  • Check in with your primary care provider. Sometimes these feelings can have medical causes as well, and it is always beneficial to get a check up. Your PCP can also assist in referring you to other providers if needed.
  • Schedule some time off. For some, work can be a helpful distraction or area to focus, for others a period of rest can be a helpful way to focus on a healing activity.
  • This year, the City of Boston is working to support and celebrate its residents’ resiliency with One Boston Day, a collection of community events and scheduled acts of kindness, as well as recorded stories of strength and recovery. We encourage you to look into these events, as well as other volunteer opportunities, as both a self-care activity and a means of contributing to and celebrating your home.   

If the feelings are persistent, it may be beneficial to consider a conversation with a mental health practitioner. The City of Boston Employee Assistance Program (EAP) has counselors that can help evaluate you and help you process the feelings you are experiencing. If needed, we can assist in referrals to long-term therapy and other support services as well. If you are not sure you wish to speak to a counselor directly, be sure to check out the EAP Resource List for other options.

From all of us at the EAP, have a safe and healthy April.

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