Exploring the Root Cause
2020 will be remembered for a lot of things, but its calming and restorative effect won’t be one of them.
Or will it?
It’s been a very difficult year for all of us: parents, students, business owners, healthcare workers, those of us with elderly family members, and virtually everyone else.
But the silver lining - if there is a silver lining - is that the pandemic has thrown a very bright spotlight on something that was probably not getting the attention it deserved prior to the lockdowns: our overall mental health.
As the isolation and physical distancing dragged on, we started to see a wide variety of articles, videos, podcasts, and blog posts devoted to maintaining our sanity and balance in these unprecedented times.
For many of us, it might’ve been the first time we’d given that any thought at all. But as the expression goes, better late than never.
Fear of the Unknown
Humans are hardwired to fear the unknown. In our past, that was fantastic for survival. Unknown people, food, animals, or situations could very well lead to injury or even death. That fear kept us alive.
In the modern world, we no longer have to fear a sabre-toothed tiger, but our intrinsic need to know is as strong as ever. The only thing that’s changed is what we need to know:
- That we’re loved
- That we’ll pass our big exam
- That our special someone will say ‘yes’
- That the deal will go through
- That our stock portfolio is going up
- That are children are well behaved and happy
- That we’ll get the promotion
And on and on and on. In fact, the list of things we need to know in order to feel completely ‘in the know’ is essentially infinite.
But instead of survival-based fear, the uncertainty that comes with not knowing now leads to anxiety.
And if there was ever a year with an abundance of uncertainty, it’s 2020.
The Anxiety Monster
Anxiety is an umbrella term, and it means different things to different people. It might manifest as feeling overwhelmed, restless, or agitated, you may have difficulty concentrating, or experience your heart beating so fast it scares you.
And in a cruel twist, feeling anxious can itself lead to more anxiety.
Stress hormones flood our system as our mind and body prepare for...something. We may not even know what is making us anxious, but if some threat to our protection, survival, or minimization of pain is perceived, it’s go-time.
If you’re on high alert for too long, the short-term efficiency of the entire system starts to fail, and that can make us feel anxious all the time with or without reason.
The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously made most of us very anxious, but it’s also provided us with the time and opportunity to understand it and take action, too. That’s the silver lining I was talking about earlier.
Now more than ever, take the time to intentionally be mindful of whatever you define is best for your life and your mental health.
The things we do and the people we surround ourselves with can either support or hinder us, so we need to choose wisely.
There’s no shame in feeling anxious. It’s a natural and valid response to an uncertain world.
So, starting today, right at this very moment, I want you to:
- Acknowledge you are your own top priority.
- Acknowledge that the state of your mental health seeps into all facets of your daily life.
- Acknowledge that you don’t HAVE anxiety. You experience symptoms that fall under the umbrella of anxiety, but that it can and should pass.
- Choose to dedicate time and energy on improving yourself without apology or reservation.
- Consider starting some new activity to give you something else to focus on.
And don’t forget, there is real strength in recognizing when it gets to be too much and seeking a trained professional to help you sort it all out.
The pandemic is a powerful opportunity to think about your mental health, even as it's put to the test. Consider if everything you’re doing is in not only your best interest, but your highest interest too for now and into the future. Anything you can do for your mental health today and tomorrow pays deep dividends and royalties to your quality of life for every day to follow.