It’s confession time…I’m tired. I’m tired in a way that I’ve never been before.
About 3 weeks ago, I realized that I had hit the proverbial wall. The wall was built with all my worries: worrying about my kids; worrying about my family that I haven’t seen since Christmas 2019; worrying about the safety of my friends, worrying about the safety of my coworkers; worrying about my community and the people I know who are suffering as a result of this pandemic; worrying about the election, wildfires, social unrest and hurricanes; and ultimately, worrying about my waning energy and whether I could find the strength to face it all, indefinitely.
I began to wonder if anyone else felt the same, so I started confessing my feeling to others. Overwhelmingly I learned that I was not alone. Within my group of confidants, our walls of worry looked a little bit different, but we are all bumping up against them. Some had been colliding for so long that they felt like crash-test dummies.
With everything happening right now, it is more important than ever to focus on staying well. In a study published in August, the CDC reported that more than 2 in 5 U.S. residents report struggling with mental or behavioral health issues associated with the COVID 19 pandemic. These issues included anxiety, depression, increased substance abuse and suicidal thoughts, and they disproportionately affect certain groups: More than half of respondents aged 18 to 24 years (74.9%) or 25 to 44 years (51.9%) reported having at least 1 mental or behavioral health symptom, as did the majority of respondents who were Hispanic (52.1%), held less than a high school diploma (66.2%), were essential workers (54.0%) or unpaid caregivers for adults (66.6%), or were already receiving treatment for previously diagnosed anxiety (72.7%), depression (68.8%), or posttraumatic stress disorder (88.0%) at the time of the survey.
These statistics help illustrate what we are all feeling, but they don’t necessarily help us address our struggles. So what do we do?
To start, we need to remember that there are many, many things that are out of our control right now. But there are some things that we do have control over. With this in mind, we each need to continuously take stock of our feelings so we can recognize our stressors and evaluate whether what’s worrying us is even something we have power over. Then, we can begin to cope, and move forward.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has put together some great resources to help us cope with our current surroundings. We can:
- Be selective about how and when we consume information. Taking in too much news these days can cause excess stress. Set limits on how long you are going to consume news each day and be selective about your sources
- Have a daily routine and commit to it each day. You may not have control of everything you’ll face during the day, but you can establish a routine for the parts that are within your control. Get up at the same time each day, shower, and make your bed. Make it a point to connect with loved ones daily, one way or another. Make time for exercise and stick to it. Take breaks from work, whether you’re in your normal workspace or a temporary arrangement. Eat nutritious food as much as possible. Prioritize sleep
- Move your body. Exercise improves both your physical and mental health. Research suggests that when we exercise, our brain releases chemicals that help us better manage stress and anxiety. This doesn’t have to be a vigorous workout but you do need to get your blood moving
- Practice mindfulness in the moment. Mindfulness is a way of practicing awareness. The basic idea is to focus your attention on the present moment and accept it without judgment. The Mayo Clinic has some great Tips for Mindfulness and Coping with Anxiety
- Do meaningful things with your free time. When we’re tired, especially now, it may feel like all we want to do is sit down and turn into a couch potato. But that is exactly the opposite of what our body and our brain actually need right now. Use your free time to go for a walk, read, work on a puzzle, create something, cook something new. Do tasks around the house that engage your mind and body
- Stay connected with others and maintain (or build!) your social networks. While we are social distancing right now, it doesn’t mean we need to be socially isolated. There are ways to feel connected, even when you can’t go places or see people as you normally would. Instead, reach out to friends and family by phone, email, social media, video chat, etc., and know that we’re doing our part to keep each other safe by staying apart. Offer to help others, it is a tremendous boost to your wellbeing. On the flip side, ask for help if you need it. Share how you’re feeling with others that you trust.Or maybe, look to increase your social network… Due to the pandemic, there have never been more ways to connect with people who have similar interests. Seek out online classes and other virtual ways to engage with others in activities you enjoy, including painting, exercising, multi-player video games, attending virtual concerts or virtual dinner parties
The above suggestions certainly aren’t anything new. However, I think what makes this time in history different is that we need to actively and mindfully address each part of the list above. It’s so easy to let things slowly fall by the wayside, only to find ourselves struggling and overwhelmed later on.
If you do find yourself struggling, now or in the future, please remember that there are many resources available to you. If your work has an Employer Assistance Program (EAP), then call them and ask for help. Most of them are available 24/7. Additionally, there are many free online support groups. A great resource that I found is How Right Now, an interactive website that directs users to many different resources based upon their unique situation.
No matter where you are right now, I encourage you to reach out to one person every day and see how they are doing; make it a point to do it daily. We need to check in with each other, and we need others to check in with us too. At the beginning of the pandemic we did more of this. Now that we know that we’re in this for the long haul we have to do a better job of taking care of ourselves and each other.
Like all things, this moment will eventually come to an end. When that time comes, I hope to emerge much more whole and healthier and I challenge you to do the same. Together, we can do it.
Elaine Gorton is FPPA’s HR Director, working hard to take care of the people who take care of our members, employers and other stakeholders. When not at work, Elaine enjoys precious time with her kids and spending time anywhere outdoors in the sunshine.