Let’s talk about mental health
By Beverley Bartlett
"Let's talk about mental health because the more we talk about it, the more we empower others to say, actually, I'm not ok."
The majority of us have transitioned to working from home in 2020, due to the pandemic. The change itself has brought with it a multitude of challenges. Details about physical ailments are relatively easy to share. Why is it then so difficult to reveal how our mental health is being affected during these challenging times? Let’s consider trying something different during woman’s month: let’s destigmatise talking about mental health.
First, let us stop to consider why we as women keep quiet or ‘suffer in silence’, in this respect. One of the reasons could include that our mental health challenges may be a socialised experience that we’ve come to internalise. For example, we are all aware of the unspoken perception that sharing a mental health challenge evokes feelings of weakness and shame; we may even fear becoming a social pariah (aka an ‘untouchable’) as a consequence of ‘opening up’.
However, when we feel free to share our feelings of loneliness, sadness and/or depression, we break this cycle and make it ‘okay’ for others to share their reality as well. In this process, we, as women, are able to normalise our experiences, which leads to opportunities for openness, sharing and empathy. If we make it okay to talk to others about these uncomfortable realities of life, we will potentially be able to discover that others have walked this path before, and that we can develop new (and healthier) coping mechanisms, grow in our understanding and, ultimately, heal.
According to a Buffer survey, most employees prefer to work remotely. This, however, comes at a cost, because 22% of people battle to maintain a healthy work–life balance when working in such a context, and 19% report added feelings of loneliness when they do (Silvermann, 2020). It is therefore important for us to address how we, as women, feel during this current period of social isolation, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and because of the challenges we face in our new work circumstances.
People whom I have interviewed corroborate the statistics above, by mentioning their own feelings of loneliness, which are being caused by the isolation factor, additional family stressors with children, and the added pressures of having to fulfil multiple roles at home. They also mention various distractions and frustrations – one of the most difficult being the task of keeping children up to date with their education via homeschooling. In many, this has created a sense of desperation: they feel that they are merely surviving, not thriving, and – if they’re not careful – will soon succumb to the waters that are constantly trying to rise above their heads.
In the drive to become a productive workforce, productivity should never be at the expense of our mental health.
Firstly, admit to yourself that you are not okay. Then, seek help. Check in with your medical doctor and make sure that your current state of mind does not perhaps have a physical cause. Tell yourself, as much as you need to, that what you are feeling is normal, especially under the circumstances. From personal experience, the most important step one can take in such instances is to talk about what is troubling you with a good friend. Confiding in someone who is not enmeshed in your situation provides immense relief. The importance, here, lies in the ‘outsider focus’, something that can provide you with a much-needed fresh perspective. Don’t bottle up your emotions: talk your way to wellness.
Focus on taking baby steps in respect of allowing yourself regular ‘time out’ moments – even if it means just taking a brisk walk. A good walk in the open air will balance out your stress levels, by releasing endorphins that will allow you to relax. This is possible even if you’re walking for only 20 minutes (Clarke, 2016)!
Make sure that you are getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can really affect our mood. It is incredible what positive effects just eight undisturbed hours of sleep can hold for our bodies, minds and spirits. And it is absolutely free!
There was a time in which one of my personal mental health challenges was dealing with burnout and being unable to ‘unplug’ from work. In my bid to cope, I worked harder and harder; put in longer hours; and would wake up in the early hours of the morning with anxious thoughts, waiting for the other shoe to drop, with a pounding chest. I eventually reached the point where everything was spinning out of control. Healing started when I paused and considered my ways.
A fresh focus and outlook did wonders for my perspective. To fully access the advantages of novelty, one must have the courage to do something for the first time – something you have never done before. For example, take up a hobby that is quite different to your work role. For me, I had this deep innate desire to draw with a pencil. Before this, I could literally only draw stick people! In this process of applying myself and adapting to a new experience, I started to see myself differently. (See one of my efforts above; notice the detail, which required intense concentration and focus on something other than the burden I was carrying.)
In seeing myself differently, I started learning to appreciate myself, as a human being, as a woman, as a wife, as a mother and as a friend… as someone with a valuable contribution to make to others and to the world, even during this difficult time in my life. I started to believe that I could, and it opened me up even further to new possibilities, whereupon I started to heal.
My late grandfather taught me that life is sweet. His refusal to give up in the face of terminal illness, taught me to persevere and to pause to consider the daily joys that make life worthwhile: simple things, like the beauty of a green tree top or a simple garden flower, were all that was required. There was a wisdom in his resilience and in his appreciation of life, and it was a wisdom that I could grow to emulate.
For me, a positive mental state is a journey, not a destination. So, let’s all take a moment to breathe and be kind to ourselves.
Remember, you are doing the best that you can.
Clarke. D. 2016. Mental and Physical benefits of exercise. [Online] Available from Huffington Post: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/mental-and-physical-benefits-of-exercise_b_57d6341be4b0f831f70722f8?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAKxzipVYV0DXzDrLeOlwgba03LjHzgHfrjzT3udEsPq3HPqR_TGdA1Echp-HF4dNnSm7xHszCT6t2Fm_bGSDPeKSHJnLhmvTgnDxxZ2mGO8u3tAP6OTODXqrW7NF8OgRJEpC9gj8JETdNr3JKRDAq-jDyZUFohN9FgwLw1ZDrKRN [Accessed: 2020-07-22] & Silvermann, B. 2020. Are employees more productive working from home? [online] Available from Business.com: 1, 2020
04 Aug 2020