Before the pandemic changed the way many of us work, we were forced to deal with an array of psychological stresses that added to the pressures of our work environments. From how employees reacted to their own illnesses to how they dealt with the varying needs of a child, parent or other loved one, our workforce was under stress.
Then came the pandemic, and a whole new level of stress. Although our masking, hand-washing and social distancing helped conquer the traditional rampant spread of the common cold, the resulting isolation redefined our lives. Separation and loneliness caused a growing number of us to experience mounting anxiety and symptoms of depression as we struggled to adjust to an ever-changing “new normal.” Many adults have had trouble sleeping or eating, and dealt with alcohol or substance abuse or worsening chronic conditions while they struggled to cope with various stresses caused by COVID-19. Fortunately, from that depressing reality a ray of hope has emerged.
Our pandemic experience has changed the way many of us think about the importance of rest and self-care. This has caused an increasing number of us to focus on our own health and well-being, and that of those around us. We are starting to recognize the importance of taking a break. And an increasing number of us now understand that prioritizing work over all else can not only hurt ourselves, but can also impact those around us. This recognition has caused some employers to expand work-from-home options for many employees, whether on a regular or partial basis, thereby eliminating some elements of stress from various work environments.
We are pleased to see growing employer concern and flexibility, but there is more work to be done. Even before the pandemic, there were mental health care shortages throughout the country, especially in rural areas. That shortage reportedly impacted more than a third of Americans, or 124 million people. And the situation has gotten worse during the pandemic. Moreover, just like actual recovery plays out differently for those recovering from COVID, so too the projected needs for those dealing with pandemic-related stress and other mental health needs could strain the mental health care system for years to come.
In the early days of the coronavirus threat we urged our readers to focus on their mental health — to eat well, exercise regularly and get enough sleep — in order to better cope with the anticipated stress of the pandemic. At the time, we had no idea how long the situation would last, or its impact on our collective well-being. And now, 17 months later, as we prepare for next month’s High Holidays, we have an opportunity to recommit to increasing our focus on our own mental health needs and the needs of those around us. Let’s enter the new year with a heightened focus on the importance of peace of mind.