The last two years have been tough. Really tough. A pandemic we didn’t understand (and still don’t, to some extent), remote work, worry about job security, longer shifts at work, risk of infection, stay-at-home measures, juggling childcare or homeschooling kids, lack of work/life balance, social isolation, depression, anxiety – the list goes on and on. The uncertainty created by the virus led to other issues that weren’t necessarily good for us: worry, loss of sleep, binge eating, less exercise, use of alcohol or other substances, and exacerbation of mental health issues. Because we were unable to spend time with those closest to us due to COVID, it became even more difficult to connect or get help from those we rely on most.
Now that we are more able to access our social and emotional connections, do we? Are we able to open up to say, “Whoa. That was hard. That was a lot, and I didn’t deal with it very well.” It’s important to realize the pandemic has had a very real effect on humans and our emotional well-being. But for once in our lives, we don’t have to feel like we are alone – this has been hard on everyone.
The Century Foundation looked at the U.S. Census’ Household Pulse Survey to determine the increase in mental health issues during the first year of the pandemic. They found that moderate-to-severe anxiety was 37.3%, up from 6.1% in 2019. Additionally, moderate-to-severe depression was 30.2% - four times higher than before the pandemic. A statistic of great concern is anxiety among young adults: Individuals under 35 years of age experience moderate to severe anxiety rates that are close to 25 percentage points higher than older individuals. This can culminate in less productivity in school and in the workplace and could potentially lead to stalled economic growth and inequality in the future.
The impact of COVID on the workforce
Indeed.com did a survey of 1500 working Americans across all age groups, experience levels, and job industries. 52% of the respondents said they were experiencing burnout during 2021 – up from 43% from their pre-COVID study. 67% of all workers believe that burnout has worsened during the pandemic.
In healthcare, where workers continued working in person throughout the pandemic, female physicians reported higher rates of burnout as they experienced greater conflict trying to balance work and parenting responsibilities. Only 49% of physicians reported feeling happy in 2020 versus 69% before the pandemic. According to an article published in The Lancet journal, EClinicalMedicine, 38% of 20,947 healthcare employees reported experiencing anxiety or depression, 43% reported work overload, and 49% felt burned out. Interestingly, stress was reported to be higher among nursing assistants, medical assistants, social workers, inpatient workers, women, and people of color.
The Mayo Clinic lists risk factors that can impact burnout:
· Heavy workload/long work hours
· Lack of work/life balance
· Work in a helping profession (i.e. healthcare)
· Feelings of loss of control over work
According to Mayo, unaddressed burnout can have significant consequences, including:
· Excessive stress
· Sadness, anger, irritability
· Alcohol/substance abuse
How can I manage stress and anxiety?
On a positive note, the pandemic has brought mental wellness to the forefront in a society where there is often a stigma about seeking help for mental issues. The Mayo Clinic suggests several strategies for self-care to help you regain control of your physical and mental wellness:
· Get enough sleep
· Exercise regularly
· Choose a well-balanced diet; limit refined sugar and caffeine
· Avoid tobacco, alcohol, and drugs
· Try a relaxing activity (tai chi, yoga, meditation)
· Mindfulness and breathing
· Make human connections
A word about men
The Cleveland Clinic runs an annual educational campaign for men called MENtion It. They did a survey of 1,000 American men in 2020 in search of information about COVID-19 and its effect on men’s mental health. Seventy-seven percent of respondents said their stress levels had increased, and 59% said they felt isolated. In fact, Mental Health America (MHA) reported that 70% of people who screened for moderate-to-severe symptoms of anxiety or depression are struggling most with loneliness or isolation. In 2021, the MHA survey reported that rates of frequent thoughts of suicide are the highest they have recorded since their founding in 2014. While women are more likely than men to attempt suicide, men are more likely to be successful in their suicide attempts. And with the high rates of isolation and increased stress and anxiety, it is more important than ever for men to take care of their emotional and mental states.
Because men tend to have fewer friendships than women and those friendships tend to be activity-based, they sometimes have more difficulty showing vulnerability and establishing close social connections with other men. It is important – now more than ever – for men to take advantage of their support systems to develop and strengthen connections. Connection with others is grounding and vital for survival. Healthy, honest, and genuine relationships form a safety net that fortifies against depression and anxiety AND enhances our experiences of life. By learning how to trust others, we also learn to trust ourselves.
Sovegna offers individual therapy that allows everyone time to delve into their depths and clear out that which has not served them well. We also offer group sessions that emphasize the essential skills for forming and maintaining genuine connection. Call us today at (385) 429-9808 to schedule your confidential appointment with one of our therapists or to sign up for a group session.