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.