By Dr. Komal Bhasin, bci’s Senior DEI Consultant and Mental Health Expert-in-Residence.

Following three full years of turbulence and uncertainty, many of us are gradually accepting that COVID-19 is now a permanent part of our daily lives. Some of us feel a sense of resignation while others are excited to move on from the years of change and adaptation we’ve had to endure. We’re hearing phrases like “now that the world is open again” or “now that we’re well into a new normal” before describing all the ways we’re leaning back into our lives in a post-pandemic world.

With this settling, acceptance, and even excitement to participate in our lives more freely and more fully – to finally take that vacation, start that project, connect with those old friends – you might expect an improvement in our collective mental health and well-being, right?

As a mental health clinician and workplace wellbeing practitioner, on the surface I too would’ve thought that after years of diminishing mental health, we’d start to see improvements in mental health. So you might then be surprised to know that people continue to self-report poor mental health in both Canada and the USA . Why might that be?

In my bci blog on pandemic-related anxiety last year, I shared several ideas on why people experienced diminished mental health in the earlier days of the pandemic: in particular, the abrupt psychosocial adjustments we were forced to make as social animals who were restricted in how, when, and with whom we were able to connect. It’s simply not within our nature as humans to be isolated from one another and to see one another as threats.

When we consider the degree of adjustment and change we’ve experienced, collectively we demonstrated tremendous resilience and capacity to cope and survive and even thrive in the face of a profound change in how we coexist. It took time for our bodies – our nervous systems – to adjust to the sheer volume of change we experienced.

Three years later, many of us continue to experience the mental health consequences, even as the world puts its foot on the gas peddle to catch up for lost time. Having barely adjusted, we are being required to shift once again, this time to a rapid acceleration in socializing, productivity, and physical contact and, for many of us, the adjustment may be too fast, too furious, and all together too much.

Just as we needed time to “find our legs” during periods of isolation and remote work, we may need to pace ourselves as our bodies and minds adjust back to a version of what would have been considered normal. We need to manage the pace with which we have accelerated socializing, the focus on “getting things done”, and making up for lost time. Balance these exciting possibilities with the right pace and sequencing that allows us to enjoy without becoming overwhelmed or burnt out.

This is where self-care becomes especially important. Self-care is the active process of anticipating, planning for, and implementing personalized and collective strategies that help individuals and teams overcome adversity, maintain well-being, build resilience, and thrive during crises.

Often we don’t make time to identify what we really need to be well today, tomorrow, in the near future, and in the long term. While it’s easy to put it off, having a concrete set of life-affirming practices to rely on can be an important part of mental health promotion and prevention. If you’re new to self-care planning, or if you, like me, fall away from your self-care practices from time to time, here’s a great resource by Australia’s Black Dog Institute which includes a self-care planning guide and template.

On a personal note, my favorite part of self-care planning is identifying where I will set boundaries and say “no” to social engagements, projects, and other things that drain me. I also love identifying who my “cloud relationships” are at any given time and how I would like to spend meaningful time with them. In my last round of self-care planning, I came up some new things that are currently bringing me a lot of joy – who would like to hear me play “Mary had a Little Lamb” on the flute?

My takeaways for you are as follows:

  • What will your self-care plan look like?
  • What activity or practice can you start today that will bring you joy?
  • What shifts or changes can you make in how you work that will enable you to better care for your mental health?

Finally, be gentle with yourself. It’s still a tough time.

Dr. Komal Bhasin, MSW, MHSc, DocSocSci

Komal is bci’s Senior DEI Consultant and Mental Health Expert-in-Residence and an accomplished DEI facilitator, coach, and strategist. Komal has over 20 years of experience in providing strategic and advisory guidance and program development across a range of sectors, with a particular concentration in mental health and racial inclusion. Komal is also the founder of Insayva Inc., a social enterprise focused on providing accessible DEI and health equity support to charities and non-profit organizations.

Komal has extensive experience in creating and delivering programming in a range of DEI areas, including unconscious bias, cultural competence, mental health inclusion, psychological safety, and allyship. She is passionate about driving transformational change in workplaces and has worked closely with bci clients — corporations, professional services firms, health care providers, and educational institutions — to embed cultures of DEI within their organizations.

Komal has provided one-on-one inclusion coaching to hundreds of senior leaders and brings a unique approach that is informed by her background as a therapist. She is able to expertly handle sensitive conversations and situations and works with leaders to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to advance racial/ethnocultural, gender, and mental health-related equity across teams and organizations. Komal also offers a performance coaching program designed specifically for BIPOC leaders. This program aims to help BIPOC leaders harness their place, position, and identity to thrive in the workplace and beyond. Komal is a qualified administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI).

As bci’s Mental Health Expert-in-Residence, Komal offers tremendous expertise around workplace mental health. As a doctoral trained mental health clinician, certified health executive, and registered social worker, Komal has assisted organizations looking to advance employee mental health inclusion and well-being through offering programming on inclusive dialogue, anti-stigma, burnout prevention, psychological safety, resilience, and self-care. Komal is committed to advancing mental health and wellness across the life course; she currently serves on the board of the Alzheimer’s Society of Ontario and previously served on the board of Children’s Mental Health Ontario and the YMCA of Greater Toronto.

When Komal is not working, you’ll find her painting, cooking or snuggling with her cat.