Top Takeaways: Preserving Your Mental Health During Challenging Times

By Kathryn O’Kane

As a director and producer, I’m a planner and I’m used to solving problems. The biggest challenge I’m finding is that there’s not enough information to be able to plan. I attended the “Mental Health and Career Sustainability in the Doc World” panel because I wanted to know how we as producers can come to terms with that and how we can relax into the uncertainty of the moment when it goes against our nature.

On March 31, NYWIFT and The D-Word presented the panel to explore what lessons can be learnt from this pivotal moment. The D-Word has been hosting discussions about the art, craft, business and social impact of documentary film since 1999.

Moderated by Doug Block (The D-Word), panelists included Rebecca Day (producer/psychotherapist), Kelsey Koenig  (Impact Partner Films), Heidi Reinberg  (documentary filmmaker) and Chithra Jeyaram (documentary filmmaker).

Below are some take aways to help us through these challenging times:


  • Find or create a support network. Check in with friends, family and coworkers.  Because we are not allowed physical contact, emotional contact is important for healthy well-being.
  • Virtual meetings are a way to connect with people you know and with people you wouldn’t normally meet.
  • Festivals are figuring out what they are going to do on a virtual platform, which will be another way to engage with the community.


  • Because it’s easy to go into a hopeless state, find whatever gives you joy and happiness: eating, baking, yoga, watching movies, etc. 


  • Focus on the things that you can control in the moment – walks, cleaning, etc. You don’t have to be superwoman or superman to deal with COVID-19. You don’t have to be the super yoga person. Do whatever you feel you can do to get through the day, and don’t do any more. 
  • Maintain structure. Everything is so uncertain so getting up in the morning and scheduling your day is important. Even if it’s just one hour for work. The less time spent on social media, probably the better. Structure is very helpful.


  • Be selective about how much you engage with news.  
  • Even though we’re all isolated, there’s so much noise. Listen to your anxiety levels to figure out what is making it rise and get rid of it even if it’s just a few hours. There will start to be space for creativity.


  • Be grateful for what you have: community, family, friends, a sense of humor, etc.


  • Understand the uncertainty of the moment. Learn what you control and don’t control and let go of what you don’t control. You have to be ok with leaning into uncertainty for the moment. We’re not going to have answers for a while.  
  • Be ok with not being productive. (Editor’s note: this is probably the hardest for us producers!)

We hope these ideas bring you some peace during this stressful time. If you are feeling overwhelmed, Thousands of therapists have signed up to offer free emotional support to New Yorkers who are struggling with the mental health impact of this pandemic. Call the state’s hotline at 1-844-863-9314 to get free emotional support, consultations and referrals to a provider.

And check out our NYWIFT Emergency Resource Directory which NYWIFT will continue to update. 





busyk Kathryn O'Kane is a producer/director with over fifteen years of diverse experience in television, advertising and web media. She is honored to serve on the NYWIFT Board of Directors, which supports the careers of women in the Entertainment Industry. Kathryn has crafted narratives as diverse as “Mission Juno,” which documents NASA’s probe to Jupiter, "Master Class," the award-winning10-part flagship series for the Oprah Winfrey Network OWN, and "San Quentin Film School," a six-part documentary series for Discovery Channel following nine prisoners during the first ever film production class in prison. Having started her career supporting democratic initiatives in Latin America, Kathryn has always maintained a love for international travel and politics, and she looks forward to bridging cultural differences through art and story telling. Learn more at www.busyk.com.

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