But this year is different. Almost all of us are experiencing symptoms of stress.
I am very aware that employees at the Brien Center are coping with an incredible amount of personal stress. They are resilient, committed and caring professionals who have helped thousands of people in our community weather many storms. Yet, even highly trained behavioral health clinicians and staff are experiencing one or more symptoms of stress as part of the emotional toll taken by the pandemic and other national issues. I often wonder who is taking care of the caregivers these days.
Our employees are far from alone. There’s been a great deal of press coverage about the severe burnout experienced by physicians and nurses caring for Covid-19 patients. Multiple polls taken during this past year have concluded that people from many walks of life are living with constant stress that is impacting their mental health.
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. In previous years, I’ve written about the Brien Center’s efforts to reduce the stigma associated with behavioral health issues. Or, I’ll explain an aspect of our services, and the courage it takes to seek help. But this year is different. Rather than focusing on a specific segment of our population living with mental illness or addiction, we need to enlarge our vision exponentially. Almost all of us are suffering in some way. This brutal pandemic has launched yet another pandemic that manifests itself by depression, anxiety, fear, drinking too much, sleeping too little, and more.
According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America poll, more parents of children under 18, essential workers and communities of color are reporting mental health symptoms associated with prolonged stress. The pandemic is just one of the reasons. Also high on the list is the discord cause by political division in this country, racial injustice and civil unrest. More people than ever before are worried about the future.
“Nearly a year into the pandemic, prolonged stress persists at elevated levels for many Americans,” said Arthur C. Evans, Jr., PhD, the CEO of the American Psychological Association (APA). “Without addressing stress as part of a national recovery plan, we will be dealing with the mental health fallout from this pandemic for years to come.”
May seems to be a particularly appropriate month for all of us to adopt a few strategies to help manage our stress and incorporate them into our daily lives. The APA offers the following evidence-based advice: Give yourself permission to take a break from the news, social media or even certain friends. Constantly exposing ourselves to negative information, images and rhetoric maintains our stress at unhealthy levels. Practice the rule of “three good things” and ask friends and family to do the same. The rule states that at the end of each day, reflect on three good things that happened — large or small. This helps decrease anxiety, counter depression and build emotional resiliency. Practice self-care in 15- or 30-minute increments throughout the day. This can include taking a short walk, calling a friend or watching a funny show. Parents should encourage or help their children to do the same. Stay connected with friends and family. This helps build emotional resiliency so you can support one another. Keep things in perspective. Try to reframe your thinking to reduce negative interpretations of day-to-day experiences and events.
To this I would add one more piece of advice: go easy on yourself and others. As I wrote in a previous column, coping with a prolonged pandemic is not the time for heroics. We’re all doing the best that we can. As we continue raising awareness about mental health, it’s comforting to know that none of us is going through this alone.