Living through 2020 has been a little like wandering into a boxing ring with the heavyweight champ of misery. The hits just keep coming: COVID-19, racial injustice, shutdowns and isolation, job losses, polarizing political campaigns, wildfires, hurricanes and even “murder hornets.” It’s enough to affect our mental health and make even the most resilient person feel concussed.
Small wonder that so many people in the U.S. are experiencing anxiety and depression. Alcohol and substance abuse are on the rise as coping mechanisms. Rarely, if ever, has there been so much cause for concern about mental health.
The New Year looms ahead, and with it more anxiety. Will there be more lockdowns and isolation? Will things get better before 2022? With so much uncertainty, there is an even-sharper edge to the usual mixed feelings that many have as holidays approach.
With that in mind, here are some thoughts and tips on maintaining our own mental health and caring for others as the year hurdles toward its end:
It sneaks up on you: I know this from personal experience. I’m one of those people who tends to act on his gut, and for much of my life that was a good thing. Work hard. Don’t be late. Exercise now, not later. Be social. Learn to play ice hockey. Life was a series of instincts and responses, and when I followed my instincts, things worked out great.
But over time, those instincts turned on me. I trusted my gut even when it started telling me not to exercise, not to socialize, not to worry about eating well or getting enough sleep. From my perspective, I was doing what I always did: I had a thought, it seemed like a good idea, and I would act on it. Gradually, I stopped doing anything that was good for me, in what seemed like a perfectly natural way, and despair and a feeling of futility followed. That’s depression. I learned the hard way not to believe everything I think. Fears and feelings may be powerful, but they are not facts.
Others can’t help if they don’t know: Many people, even after realizing they have a mental health problem, hide it, as I did. Asking for help is scary. People don’t like to admit weakness. They worry that family and friends will think less of them. They worry that their bosses and colleagues will judge them harshly. They worry about the stigmas of medication and seeking professional help. I kept up the charade until I hit the wall. In retrospect I see how pointless that was.
I believe the best thing to do if this happens to you is to focus on the people who can help, not on fear. As I explained in a recent video about mental health in the workplace for Disability:IN, when given the choice, most colleagues—and family members even more so—will choose to be helpful and supportive. But when I isolated myself, I denied them the opportunity to prove my fears wrong by demonstrating their inclusiveness and caring natures. Things got so much better when I opened up to those close to me, including my manager. I would urge everyone to be honest with others—and with themselves.
Keep an eye on your loved ones: Understanding what happened to me, and finally getting the help I needed, has given me the heart to look out for others as well as the sharp eye needed to spot symptoms. Someone suffering from depression or another mental illness might be the last to recognize it. In my case, I was probably the last to know.
If a loved one is showing signs of depression—listlessness, isolation, secrecy, over-indulgence—say something. The discussion might be uncomfortable but ignoring warning signs is worse.
This has been a rough year, to put it mildly. As a result, the holidays hold a greater-than-usual potential for anxiety and depression. Try to be watchful and protective of loved ones. And don’t neglect yourself: Keep an eye on how you’re really feeling and have the courage to be open about it.
Originally posted on LinkedIn.
Image credit: Bart LaRue/Unsplash
Hale Pulsifer is Vice President Customer Accessibility at Fidelity Investments, where he looks to optimize customer interactions for people with disabilities by ensuring that accessibility is a design principal at Fidelity. He is the former national co-chair of the Fidelity Enable Employee Resource Group for associates impacted by disabilities. He has worked at Fidelity for more than 15 years in multiple finance and strategy roles.