Everyone benefits from attention to mental health
One of the more positive things that I believe COVID-19 has given to our society is the ability to recognize and normalize the concept that our feelings matter, are valid and have a direct impact on mental and physical health.
This is true for both children and adults, which was highlighted by the pressure of so many people working and schooling from home. The lack of social interaction also intensified its importance to the human condition and our well-being.
The psychological, mental and emotional toll of COVID affected everyone at the same time, which made it real to us as a collective. Consequently, emotional well-being became a front-page issue for all of us to deal with in a way we had never before experienced.
The media began flooding the channels with interviews and data of how much stress people were dealing with, along with suggestions on how to cope with all the changes. Actors and athletes were sharing their stories of depression and anxiety in an effort to let others know they are not alone.
Suddenly, mental health was no longer synonymous with mental illness and the innate instability of weak-minded people.
It’s a freaking miracle.
Previous to the COVID event, the prevailing tone in society was that stress was for sissies. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen, you pathetic loser. Lack of mental “metal” was commonly considered a personality flaw and a convenient excuse to overwork and underpay employees.
Traditionally, if you were stressed out or emotional at work, it’s because you’re weak and unstable. A person who displayed no emotion and was believed to have ice water running through their veins was heralded as the gold standard for business professionals. Traditionally, many business professionals also had heart attacks in their 50s.
Years ago, I had a panic attack during a business meeting at work. It was my turn to present a section of the agenda, where all I had to do was read through a list of items. It was a simple enough task, but I couldn’t do it. My body would not respond to my commands and I could not breathe.
As I bolted from the room, not only did I see smirks on the faces of my friends and colleagues, I also saw the glee in their eyes as I nailed my inescapable swan dive into humiliation. For years, I did my best to push down the self-loathing that was ready to erupt like a volcano because I, too, had invested in the emotions-are-weakness business model.
I could accept weakness in others; I just couldn’t accept it in myself. I would venture to guess that sentiment is shared with about 325 million other people in this country.
After my panic episode, I was approached by a few people who wanted to give me some advice.
One suggested a half a Xanax with a shot of wine. She assured me it worked for her every time.
Another told me to see myself on a beach, relaxing in the sun to settle my nerves.
My boss shared her story of paralysis for the final presentation of her doctoral dissertation. Her final words to me were, “You just have to buck up and get it done.”
Anyone who has actually experienced a panic attack knows that the only viable advice I received was getting some pills to drug the body into relaxation.
Everyone around me responded as if there were just something inherently wrong with me. I had no justifiable reason to be panicking. It was all in my mind. No answers, just pills.
I have learned through my own struggles that stress is a generalized term everyone uses to identify what happens when this intangible but very real thing we call emotional well-being goes awry.
Evidence of the lack of emotional well-being can be seen reflected in our society by the rising mass shootings, the gun violence, the rising suicide numbers along with the opioid epidemic and drug overdose deaths.
With COVID, we all shared in the same traumatic and stressful experience.
Strangely, it’s our shared pain that bonded us and united us in a way that we can better understand ourselves and each other to move forward in a more positive and caring direction.
As we move forward from our collective COVID experience, let’s not forget about the importance of our mental and emotional health. It is everyone’s problem, and we all benefit when everyone is doing well.
It’s worth it to continue to expand our awareness and invest our time and resources into healing and supporting emotional health and well-being for all people.