It feels absolutely insane to type these words out, but we’ve made it through a full year of a global pandemic! Remember when experts were saying not to wear masks, and we thought we would be “back to normal” in a few weeks or at most a few months. Joke’s on us because here we are marking a significant milestone of 1 year coping with COVID-19.
From shutdowns and isolation to anxiety brought on by toilet paper and meat shortages, our mental health has taken some pretty big hits over the past year. Many people faced mental health challenges for the first time in their lives, and for others (like me, hi), the pandemic exacerbated already existing issues. It’s easy to make a long list of everything that completely sucks about a global pandemic, and trust me, that list lives in my head. However, I couldn’t help but think that maybe a year in lock-down has taught us (or at least reminded us of) some crucial mental health lessons, and I’m sharing a few below.
Loneliness can have a significant impact on our mental health.
Do you remember all the memes about introverts thriving in lockdown that were circling the internet when COVID-19 first hit? As a self-proclaimed homebody, I honestly didn’t mind a socially-acceptable excuse to cancel plans and binge-watch Schitt’s Creek at first. However, by the time June rolled around (if not sooner), I was desperately craving office small talk and crowded restaurants. As a result of the lockdown, my mental health took a hit, and there were days I struggled to get out of bed.
It took me a while to realize that the problem was that I was lonely, and it was making me depressed. Zoom happy-hours weren’t cutting it for me, and I craved social interactions. I’m not alone. Mental Health America reported an increase in depression and anxiety screenings on their website, and more people scored for moderate to severe symptoms. The pandemic has taught us that loneliness is a legitimate mental health concern and deserves our attention on both a micro and macro level.
Slowing down can serve us.
Raise your hand if you were personally victimized by canceled COVID plans! From weddings and trips to graduations and family gatherings, the pandemic showed no mercy and led to an onslaught of cancellations. I would be lying if I said I didn’t cry over a postponed 2020 wedding. Like many, my 2020 was packed full of events of all sizes, then March hit, and suddenly my calendar was a lot less hectic. The pandemic gave me no choice but to step back and slow down.
Looking back, I can actually appreciate it a little bit. It’s easy to get caught up in all the busyness, where suddenly we blink, and we don’t have a free weekend for months. It’s great to have adventures and social gatherings to look forward to, but it’s also easy to head down a path of burnout. COVID taught us that sometimes downtime is better than adding one more thing to our calendar and that slowing down is an integral part of mental wellness.
Talking about mental health concerns reduces shame.
Okay, this is one we’ve been talking about for a while, but I think the pandemic reinforced it. It’s relatively easy to feel alone when facing mental health challenges because our brains make us think that we are the only ones dealing with negative thoughts. However, the pandemic brought about this collective struggle that everyone could relate to and understand. And because of this, more and more people started talking about mental health.
As many people talked about how much COVID impacted their mental health, the shame around the struggles reduced, and the amplified message during 2020 was that it’s ok if you aren’t ok. While the pandemic-related challenges aren’t going away quite yet, we can take a small bit of comfort in the fact that we don’t need to feel shame about our mental health problems. I hope we can remember this when COVID is under control and we continue to talk openly about mental health in the mainstream.
It feels weird to think about the lessons that a year in lock-down has taught us because it’s been such a challenging time. However, as more and more of us receive the vaccine and start to see the light at the end of the tunnel, I hope we can learn from these trials and make mental health a priority. In the meantime, take care and wear your damn mask!