Take a minute to think back to where you were two years ago. Pre-Covid, Pre-Pandemic, Pre-so many shifts that have happened since then.
It seems like way longer than two years ago, doesn’t it?
I remember starting to prepare big holiday plans for our family. 2020 offered immense hope for me at the time – both personally and professionally – and I was excited. We had no idea what a roller coaster of a year it was about to be.
Which brings us to today. Much has changed and shifted, but one area that is extremely important to dig into is the way that our mental health has been affected; not just as employees, but as individuals.
Mental Health: Then and now
Even prior to Covid-19 and the Pandemic, the prevalence of mental illness among adults was on the rise. Across 2017-2018, 19% of adults experienced a mental illness, which is nearly an increase of 1.5 million people from the previous year.
The numbers now, in 2021, are even more compelling. “A population survey conducted in April and May, found a three-fold increase in depression since the pandemic began. The researchers examined mental health problems relative to 13 pandemic-specific stressors, including loss of a job, death of someone close to you due to Covid-19, and financial problems. The more stressors people reported, the more likely they were to also report symptoms of anxiety and depression.”
Mental Health: Take back control
Much has fundamentally changed, for all of us. And something that I’m seeing often is that many people still seem to be waiting for things to ‘go back to normal.’
I would argue that there is no ‘new normal’. Life is constantly shifting and changing, and that is in fact what is normal. As my friend Johnny C. Taylor mentions, 2020 was not the Great Pause like many of us thought it was going to be… it was instead a Reset.
Instead of fixating on what used to be, shift your mentality. One important thing to keep in mind is keeping a pulse on what you’re consuming through social media. Not only can social media prompt comparison, but the array of opinions and news sources can also cause anxiety and fear. It can create a feeling of lack of control, leaving us feeling paralyzed, and maybe even stuck.
Life is for living. We aren’t stuck, the world has just changed. As we rapidly approach 2022, and another year with Covid still very present, what are some small steps that you can take to take care of your mental health in the new year? Let’s dig in.
Practicing Mental Health: Pay attention to your thought life
Where our mind wanders to, and what we tell ourselves, is extremely important. What are the phrases and concepts that you find yourself thinking, or saying to yourself? If it’s negative or angry, this is directly affecting your mental health.
You might not even realize that you’re doing it. Start paying attention to what you might be thinking… even take a moment to jot down the thoughts, no matter how negative or positive they might be. At the end of the day, do a quick scan of some of the notes or words that you wrote down; these are what your brain is soaking up. Do they lean towards positive, or negative concepts?
Taking control of your thoughts and mindset is a process, and can be challenging for so many of us, myself included. A practice that I personally implement is to start my day with confessions, declarations, or positive self-talk. You can say it out loud or write it down. How do you want to be seen, how will you own today? An example:
I am strong, and I am loved. I will pour positive energy and hard work into today, and refuse to let the challenges of yesterday get in my way.
From a neuroscience perspective, self-talk may be considered an internal remodeling of sorts. However, in order to remodel our brains, we have to change specific words, as well.
Beyond that, research also shows that asking ourselves questions instead of just repeating phrases might be even more effective.
When you catch your inner critic flinging accusations, think: how can I turn this statement into a question? Asking questions opens up exploration and possibility.
- Am I willing to do what it takes?
- When have I done this before?
- What if [insert worse case scenario] happens?
- How can I…?
This can help your brain address some of the negative thoughts with curiosity, not fear.
Practicing Mental Health: On boundaries
While setting up physical boundaries in our life is an important practice, it’s helpful to do the same with your mental boundaries. What concepts – good or bad – are you allowing yourself to hear or read? Things that can affect this include:
- The music that you listen to
- The social media that you consume
- The literature or journalism that you consume
- The people who you surround yourself with
Run through some of those voices in your life. Are they mostly positive, or negative? What of the above do you see most directly influencing your mindset and mental health?
If you’re letting too much garbage into your life, that’s going to negatively impact your mental health. The same can be said if you’re letting healthy, balanced thoughts and viewpoints in. Personally, I find it to be fruitful to my own mental health when I’m more consistently listening to positive music, and reading positive affirmations and scripture.
Putting positive messages on repeat can have a lasting and rewarding impact to rewire your thinking, and even physically changes your brain in the long-run. That’s why so many therapists use cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) to help people create long-lasting change.
Taking care of your Mental Health: Final takeaways
Our mental health is just as important as our physical health, and is a key player in self-care, and self value. In fact, I would argue that without healthy mental health, our physical health can deteriorate.
Take time to take care of your brain. Slow down, and be still. How do you take time every week to reset, and unplug? How often are you closing your laptop, or turning your phone face down to tune out the noise of the world?
In that downtime, and the practicing of pausing… focus on gratitude. Like I mention above, self-talk is crucial. Talk through it in your head, or write down… what are you grateful for? What are all of the gifts that you have in your life? What obstacles and hardships have you been able to overcome in the past year and beyond?
You are a strong, incredible human. Taking care of your mental health only contributes to that.
Lastly, and certainly not least. Mental health, and mental illness is never something to take lightly. If you’re struggling, there are amazing professionals and doctors around the world who you can go to for help. Don’t struggle in silence.