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2020 Perspective: Embracing Hidden Opportunity

As it is now three months into the new year, one cannot help but reflect on 2020. Just over a year ago, our daily lives began to shift drastically, forcing people to quickly adapt to the many changes that emerged with the global pandemic. Last March, the shelter-in-place order was issued here in Illinois as an initial effort to protect the health and safety of everyone in the community. As necessary attempts were made to curb the spread of the virus, another pandemic ensued as needs for mental health support continue to elevate. While hospitals were overflowing with patients, the number of people seeking mental health care surged.

Mental Health Pandemic

The connection between mental health and physical health is not a new finding. The World Health Organization defines health as

a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. (WHO 2001, p1).

Health not only means a lack of illness but an overall state of well-being. In the same way we take measures to ensure and maintain our physical health, it is important to do so with our mental health as well. The World Health Organization even states, “There is no health without mental health” and that mental health is “vital to individuals, families, and societies” (WHO, 2018, p 1). Since mental health is interconnected with physical health and impacted by life stressors, it is not surprising that the mental health of many individuals was impacted by the pandemic.

The fear and uncertainty that has surrounded COVID-19 and the effects it has had on daily life seem to be a major contributor to stress and anxiety levels. But it is interesting to ponder whether there have been positive outcomes of COVID-19. Asking this question is not meant to overlook the struggles and detrimental effects associated with COVID-19. The feelings of anxiety, stress, sadness, depression, isolation, and hopelessness have become daily companions for vast numbers of people. People have grieved the loss of how life was before this “new normal” changed everything. Many individuals have also had to sit with the grief and bereavement that comes with losing a loved one to the virus. However, even with all the ways that COVID-19 has changed daily life, it seems that it has also elicited adaptation that leads to growth.

A Story of Resilience

The acknowledgement that COVID-19 has continued to be a hardship since its emergence last year can co-exist with the thought that we may have learned valuable lessons along the way. These two ideas are not mutually exclusive. The pandemic has pushed people to increase our adaptability and resiliency which benefits mental health in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. While experiencing obstacles impacting both physical and mental health, some people have learned and applied coping skills to manage stress, acknowledge anxiety, and refocus on aspects of life within their control. Others have found creative ways to establish a new sense of structure while adapting to this “new normal” like throwing virtual birthday parties, virtual game nights, and exercising with family members at home. For others, they learned new rhythms of rest and slowing down to be with themselves. By allowing ourselves to rest, relax, and just exist during the pandemic (which at times has felt like the only option we have), the bigger picture may have become clearer.

Without the hustle and bustle of daily lives and by having to adapt to this new sense of normalcy, people have had the opportunity to just be. The idea of purely being mirrors the principle of mindfulness and living in the present moment. Just being in the moment may not be appealing or feel comfortable for some people because it is unfamiliar to many in our busy culture. With that in mind, it can be rewarding to focus on the present moment as we continue to work together to beat the virus and even when we eventually return to normalcy post-pandemic.

Hold on to What We Have Learned

As the pace of life picks back up, we must fight to not lose sight of what we have learned through the pandemic. Opportunities for flexibility and resiliency will continue to arise, and the need to be mindful in each new moment will be necessary to maintain flexibility. So, take the time to be with yourself and approach yourself with kindness so that you can take hold of the opportunity that each day holds.

References

World Health Organization, (n.d.). Mental health: Strengthening our response. Retrieved March 04, 2021, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response

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Christina Vargas

Christina is a trilingual therapist (English, Spanish, and Thai) with a Master’s degree in Social Work from University of Michigan. She specializes in working with children, adolescents, young adults, and families. Christina emphasizes and acknowledges clients’ strengths as she guides them through their personal struggles in hopes that every client she works with will achieve their full potential.
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