Get Well

Why It’s Okay to Shut Off in the Name of Mental Health

by Maggie Suszka

Over a phone call with a best friend in Chicago, I very quietly shared that I had stopped reading the news. Being in public, I made my confession in a hushed whisper. 

I was embarrassed and continued to share that it felt like a naive decision at a time like this, but it was keeping me sane. As a previous journalist herself with a father who is a primetime anchor in our hometown, she held the news to high ideals. That’s why I was surprised to hear the utmost respect and support flutter through from the other line. Granted, she is one of my most loyal and unwaveringly supportive friends. She grounded her remarkable support in fact, as any respectable journalist would. “Research says you should stop consuming the news – if you want greater health, happiness, and productivity.” 

The focus on greater health, happiness and productivity has become the epicenter of the pandemic today. With pressure to perform, succeed and to live your “best life” during lockdown, it’s easy to feel like you’re falling behind, especially as our lives are becoming increasingly digital. On social media, we observe others doing 30-day ab challenges, working to get the best skin possible, and the list goes on.

There’s a flip side to the “surface” stresses, and we’ve begun to see that the devastating impact of coronavirus is far from just physical.

People are losing their jobs and worrying about their futures. They are stuck in unloving or unstable homes. People can’t afford to pay their bills, or put food on the table for their children. They’re grieving over the loss of their parents, their spouse, or maybe even a child. They’re crippled with fear for their own health. 

There is a rising epidemic within the pandemic: worsened mental health.

May is mental health awareness month, where individuals and organizations join the national movement to raise awareness about mental health to fight stigma, educate ourselves, and advocate for policies and creative work that supports those with mental illness and their families.

1 in 5 adults will experience mental illness this year (NAMI). Someone you know, love, or work with will experience and struggle with mental illness. It affects us all, whether directly or indirectly. Now more than ever, it’s important to keep mental health in our daily discourse. 

New research has linked social isolation and loneliness to poor mental health. Recent data shows that significantly higher shares of people who were sheltering in place (47%) reported negative mental health effects resulting from worry or stress related to coronavirus than among those not sheltering in place (37%). Crisis Text Line, a service that provides free, 24/7 mental health support through text messages, has seen a 40% increase in the volume of texts sent by people seeking help over the past three weeks in the US. 

Every year, tens of millions of Americans are diagnosed with anxiety, depression and substance abuse – among other mental health problems. But even for individuals who have not been professionally diagnosed with anything, it is a really anxious time. And the things that we normally would turn to cope, such as surrounding ourselves with good people, getting involved with our community, therapy, group meetings, aren’t possible because of social distancing.

While I have cut off news for the time being, I do stay in touch with the world and COVID-19 updates through an hour long briefing from my company Underman Thompson. Our Chief Experience Officer, Sherine Kazim, shared some remarkable explanations for our emotional disregulation.

Psychologist Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotion states there are eight basic emotions: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger, and disgust. The wheel illustrates how they can relate to one another, which are opposites and which can turn into another. It shows how emotions vary in levels of intensity. Today, our emotional spectrum is way off balance. While we were once able to access the full spectrum of 32 emotions, we are now confined to 21. As a result, purchases and everyday activities in our life that were once non-emotional, are becoming emotional – like purchasing toilet paper. 

After breaking down crying mid-workout and spending days feeling disconnected, I accepted this understanding that maybe the whole world was just grieving together all at once. Kazim stressed that we must consider the intensity of our emotions and recognize and accept that we have a finite set. There’s not going to be a sadness 2.0 – we know what we are working with. 

If you or a loved one is struggling during this time, please connect with the resources below: 

Crisis Text Line 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255

For Mental Health And COVID-19 – Information And Resources, please check out the resources from Mental Health America

Jed Foundation

#Half The Story 

Headspace 

Feature Image via Vanessa Granda

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