There’s plenty of eager chatter about what comes next: will it be a hybrid, remote, or an in-person workplace? It feels like leaders are anxious to cue the next chapter-capitalizing on the new skills that employees honed while powering through a once-in-a-century crisis.
We all want to get back to normal. While it’s exciting to see vaccine impacts, we need the emotional equivalent. If there’s ever been a time to take a break, a hiatus, a sabbatical, it’s now.
Many of us have been holding our breath, just trying to get through. We’ve been saving our PTO, in case we get sick or need to care for a family member. We’re exhausted from powering through a traumatic time. However you’ve hustled to make this work, it’s been a long, emotional haul.
The Washington Post’s Christine Emba writes: “The vaccines are known to cause side effects . . . Thus the follow-up shots in particular are being looked forward to like a grim Christmas morning. I’ve lost count of the number of friends who have, jokingly but not really jokingly, expressed the desire for an unimpeachable excuse to lie down.”
How can professionals recharge and emotionally recover from their experience of working through the challenges of 2020-21? May is Mental Health Awareness Month; make a real commitment to yourself. Your mental health is precious. Consider these tips as you contemplate your emotional recovery.
1. Accept what you need.
It’s a challenging time. Many of us are trying to work around feelings of burnout, exhaustion, and unprocessed trauma. Emba writes: “Every era has its typical disorder, but our own might have several. Even before the pandemic, our depression and anxiety were well-documented; so, too, were our burnout and anomie. The coronavirus has allowed us to put a name to our feelings: These days we’re ‘languishing,’ or ‘hitting the wall.’ Underlying it all is a feeling of being deeply, deeply tired.”
While chatting about our collective emotional exhaustion on social media can feel like a healthy outlet, it isn’t getting us the real help that we need to own and understand our feelings.
The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) reports: “During the pandemic, about 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder . . . up from one in ten adults who reported these symptoms from January to June 2019.”
In July 2020, KFF conducted a poll to track participant’s health during the pandemic; the poll found many negative indicators:
· 36 percent of respondents were having trouble sleeping
· 32 percent felt that their eating habits were impacted by stress
· 12 percent indicated an increase in alcohol or substance use
· 12 percent indicate that chronic conditions are becoming more problematic because of stress
Mental Health America (MHA) shares that “46 percent of Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition sometime in their life.” Recognizing that we’re struggling with a mental health issue is no cause for shame; in fact, it’s common. If you’re concerned, work with your colleagues in human resources to learn more about your coverage or call your insurance company directly. The MHA also offers online screenings and information about local treatment resources.
2. Find an outlet for self-exploration.
For more than a year, we’ve been swept up in a frenzy of trying to make things work in an emergency situation. Now, life is starting to look sort of normal. This gives us the chance to start asking: how am I doing with all this?
Samantha Foster, founder and president of the mental health nonprofit, Rethink Mental Health Incorporated shares: “One way people can begin rebuilding emotional resilience and reducing stress from the COVID pandemic is to open up a dialog about their emotions, stressors and concerns. By expressing emotions as opposed to suffering in silence, people can begin to process what they are feeling and get to the root issue of emotional distress. Opening up a dialog can mean speaking to
a mental health professional, talking to a trusted friend or loved one, or joining a support group of like-minded individuals who can help you know that you are not alone in what you are going through.”
Foster points out that not everyone is comfortable sharing their feelings with others. She recommends: “If you are not ready to speak to others, you can also open a dialog and process pent up emotions through journaling, art or other expressive mediums. Whether small or big, opening up a dialog about your mental health can help you release negative emotions, find the root causes of emotional distress, make changes to your life for the better, and ultimately recover from the emotional and mental anguish you have experienced from the covid pandemic and more.”
You’ve come through, big time, for your employer and for your family. But how are you doing? Identify an outlet that enables you to explore this question.
Ask yourself hard questions, too, about your job: Does your job truly work for you and your family? If you could change anything about your job, what would that be? Is it a healthy fit for you? Is it fulfilling? You deserve a job that truly you. You deserve to thrive at work and at home. You deserve to be healthy, inside and out.
3. Create routines that serve you.
Recognize that you pay a price for trudging through. Notice it when stress and worry stick to you. Consider how you might manage that stress in a way that serves you. Then build your routine accordingly. Make it attainable, so that you can succeed, while staying emotionally and physically healthy.
If you’ve found it hard to work up the energy to stick to an exercise routine, for example, start by committing to a daily walk. The CDC reports: “Walking is a great way to get the physical activity needed to obtain health benefits. Walking does not require any special skills. It also does not require a gym membership or expensive equipment. A single bout of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity can improve sleep, memory, and the ability to think and learn. It also reduces anxiety symptoms.”
Routine movement reduces stress and anxiety, according to the CDC. Incorporate routines that you can manage: morning sun salutations, lunchtime walks, or evening bike rides. Pick your practice and commit.
4. Make time for yourself.
Decide what you need-a week in the woods, a weekend getaway, a staycation. Bring the kids or ask family members to assist, so you can travel solo. Hit the hiking trails, the botanical gardens, or the beach. Figure out what it means to get what you need, and make that your priority. Get your rest, and take some time to reflect on what you’ve just been through. Block those days on your calendar, and let the world happen without you while you heal.
Whitney Lauritsen, Well-being coach and host of mental health podcast “This Might Get Uncomfortable” shares: “My top tip for stressed out professionals is to add more down-time into their week. Many people overwork themselves, which leads to physical, mental, and emotional burnout. This can lead to trouble sleeping, imbalanced eating, and other health issues that contribute to stress.”
Lauritsen emphasizes the importance of committing to self-care and building regular breaks into your schedule: “It’s important for professionals to schedule time on their calendars to get adequate sleep, take breaks throughout the day, move their bodies, and disconnect from devices. If they’re having trouble doing this, writing a priorities list can help. Start by writing a list of every task, appointment, deadline, and desire that comes to mind. Then mark which are most important and urgent. Organize and schedule accordingly. Ideally, this will show gaps in the calendar for rest and non-work related time.”
5. Make your job habitable.
You’re more than an employee; you’re a valuable person. You’re the talent that employers are eager to retain, especially now. Many employers want to hold onto the people who helped them adapt, streamline operations, and power through the pandemic.
If you’re happy with the job you have, do the work to make it a better emotional fit for yourself. Use the clout you’ve garnered, helping your company to get through the pandemic, to make your job more habitable.
Emba writes: “Instead of giving in to our work-guilt, we could push back: We could press upon employers the value not in offering a day off ‘if you need it,’ but a day off, period. The more fortunate among us might choose to rest against our inclinations, to allow ourselves to take that day, and then take another — and also to recognize that those around us deserve the same. At a certain level of uptake, norms might begin to change. But that will take some brave first movers — or rather, not-movers.”
Be a “non-mover.” Review the wellness benefits that your company offers. Use them. This is a time of change. It’s a time of culture building. Contribute to that work by demanding a professional culture that prioritizes employee wellness. You and your colleagues deserve it.