Mental health, burnout, and the importance of self-care these days (Part 1 of 2)

In light of some recent Q&A’s I’ve done on mental health, faith, and the stress of this season, I’m offering a two-part summary of key thoughts and takeaways for us to consider these days.

Mental health and burnout during COVID-19
Let’s begin by normalizing a few things related to mental health and burnout. First, we knew before COVID-19 that 1 in 5 of us currently face a mental health struggle, although some studies show 4 in 5 of us will meet the criteria for a mental health diagnosis by middle age. We are hard-wired for imperfection and struggle, mentally and emotionally, just like the physical illnesses we navigate. We’re also seeing data suggesting our nation is facing higher levels of mental health struggles this year, with 40% of US adults in June 2020 struggling with mental health and substance use. Further, we’re seeing this across the country, as this map shows the percentages of those with symptoms of anxiety and depression across the US since April 2020.

Second, even though the messaging around how to protect ourselves from COVID-19 hasn’t changed much since the spring, the continual waves of adjustment, grief, reduced normalcy, and ambiguous loss have been difficult without our typical coping mechanisms and ways of connecting with our loved ones and community.

Dr. Herbert Freudenberger introduced the term ‘burnout’ in the 1970s and defined it as having three components that Drs. Emily Nagoski & Amelia Nagoski explain in their book, Burnout:

“1) emotional exhaustion – the fatigue that comes from caring too much, for too long;
2) depersonalization – the depletion of empathy, caring, and compassion;
3) decreased sense of accomplishment…or feeling like nothing you do makes any difference.”

While burnout is distinct from depression and many other mental health struggles, the symptoms may overlap and are worth our attention and care right now. Not only are we adjusting to new ways of navigating our typical rhythms and routines, on top of new protocols that keep us and our neighbors safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to Seasonal Affective Disorder (which impacts 5% – 20% of us) on the rise with shorter days…but we’re also facing unexpected waves of fear, decision fatigue, and heavy grief for the missed events, opportunities, and connections we had hoped to experience. Of course, these all are occurring as we’re releasing the illusion of control that we once had embedded within familiar rhythms, routines, and expectations.

“We cannot operate as usual because things aren’t usual.”
As resilient as we are, I think it’s important to remember that we cannot “operate as usual” because things aren’t usual. Instead, we must allow one another and ourselves the time, margin, flexibility, and grace needed to sit with and move through the rising emotions, grief, stress, loneliness, fears, and uncertainties as they come. We cannot skip or bypass these emotions, but instead, must move through them. Having the support of loved ones and/or a trained mental health care provider often proves to be helpful as we move through these emotions. (However, if you’re struggling with suicidal ideation, please call 800-273-8255, or if you’re in crisis, text ‘HOME’ to 741-741).

As human beings navigating a global pandemic to the best of our ability, our mental, physical, and spiritual health have all been impacted to some degree as we have individually and collectively faced several unexpected difficulties. We must offer one another and ourselves deep empathy while increasingly valuing authenticity over just “pushing through” this season.

When we admit this isn’t easy and that we are all juggling so much to the best of our ability through thick layers of uncertainty, it gives those around us permission to admit their experiences, too. In fact, I think when we create space for that shared vulnerability and empathy in our interactions with others, we can better assess the current situation, remain present to one another and to ourselves, and discern what steps are needed to move forward together, particularly because we’re not carrying an additional layer of effort pretending that everything is fine.

Self-Care for Helpers Guide
In Part 2, I’ll talk a bit more about some practical strategies to navigate this season. In the meantime, I want to warmly invite you to sign up for my Self-Care for Helpers Guide that I’ll also describe tomorrow to help you navigate the weeks ahead. You’ll also receive my monthly newsletters on the intersection of spirituality/faith and mental health, which includes updates on the book I’m writing to translate the last decade of research I’ve done on this intersection!

I would also welcome readers to follow along on social media @hollyoxhandler (Facebook | Instagram | Twitter) or checking out CXMH (a podcast on the intersection of faith and mental health), for gentle reminders to fellow helpers on caring for themselves well these days, particularly around the intersection of mental health and spirituality/faith.

Until tomorrow’s Part 2 post… be well, friends. Breathe deep, take good care of yourselves, and remember how truly loved you are as you are.


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