By Anne Davis
I have been reading (and writing) all sorts of articles and blogs on loneliness, social isolation and mental health issues that are cropping to the surface with the virus that is keeping people at home.
Gall-up released poll results this week indicating that Americans are worried about their mental health. There have been articles in the Times, Forbes, and the Chicago Tribune. We need to be worried about our teens. Mental health crises are looming. Even introverts are lonely!
And a thought occurred to me today – are we creating this future reality? And if we are creating it, can we create something different instead?
Now, don’t get me wrong. Mental health is a huge issue that has long plagued our society. I believe we need to invest in the mental health of ourselves, our children, our neighbors. But are we potentially making things worse (and increasing anxiety) by telling people we should be worried? Is this a future mental health crisis we can avert? Are we already in crisis? What do we do now regarding the mental health of our nation?
I believe we are all energy – our bodies, thoughts, words and emotions. And because we are energy, we can change things. We can create. We can create for positive or negative, depending on how you look at any one thing. We have created all sorts of things, from racism and abuse of power to beauty and loving communities. The words we speak, our art, our typed words also shape reality. Many have created vision boards and dreamt of futures that ultimately happened. We can create our future.
People are noticing “silver linings” experienced in the lockdown reality we face today. Families are spending time together. The natural world is healing. For many, the pace has slowed. If we notice these silver linings, do they increase? Will they shape the story we tell of this time to future generations? When our perception changes our life changes.
I have experienced this in my work and in my relationships. I have quit jobs whose “problems” followed me to the next job. I have completely altered the course of my marriage by changing my beliefs about my husband. We see what we believe. We find evidence to support our “rightness” all the time. Even our internet search engine algorithms are built around this confirmation bias. Tell me what I already know so that I can be right and good. And when you peek beyond the curtain and look for a new perspective? Sometimes you can change your mind and literally change your life.
When I change my perspective, everything else shifts. I am not saying to only focus on the positive; there is a lot out there that I disagree with. I still face challenges in my work and in my relationships. But I am also challenging myself (and you?) to notice more of what you want in your life. Want more abundance? Write down all the ways in which you experience abundance today. Flowers, dimes on the sidewalk, extra time. All of it. When you notice it, it becomes what you see.
In the face of a looming mental health crisis, we can change the script. Rather than fearing the anxiety, the sadness, the onslaught of “need”, let’s shift our energy to how we can improve our mental health.
In our society, we do everything we can to avoid pain and suffering. Does this avoidance improve your emotional state? We are constantly distracting ourselves from hard feelings. In everyday life (pre-COVID), we binge watch Netflix, scroll social media “feeds”, maybe go shopping or drink wine or eat – we want to “Escape to Paradise Island” or we work for the weekend. I deserve that wine after a hard day. I shop online when I can’t sleep.
Do we sometimes go to these distractions because we are bored or uncomfortable or sad?
“People only watch romantic comedies with people as a way to avoid saying what they don’t want to say. It’s like they don’t have to live a romantic life as long as they watch it with their partner,” my roommate from 20 years ago once said to me. He had a point.
“I don’t want to feel sad,” my 16 year-old said to me yesterday as he cried at breakfast. He is questioning the meaning of life these days. And he’s afraid that maybe there is none. Instead of telling him to shake it off or shower or that “of course there is a point”, I invited him to sit with the sadness. To honor it.
“What tipped it off?”
“This show I watched.” He proceeded to tell me about a show that was depicting the simplicity of life. It sounded pretty harmless to me. But one of the actors was battling cancer at the time of the show, and he died after making it. That is what brought the tears.
“No one knows his name,” he said. “Did his life even matter at all?”
I took a deep breath before I responded: “He has made such an impact on you. He matters to you. And this can change your life. If you let it.”
My son made the choice to meet what came up. He met the tears and sadness even though he wasn’t sure why he was sad. He didn’t distract himself or push himself to the next “better” emotion. He also didn’t have to rush off to school or practice. He had the space to sit.
When we distract ourselves from the hard stuff, it doesn’t make the hard stuff go away. It may stay hidden for a while or packed up with the other pains that you haven’t wanted to deal with. Eventually, it may feel like it’s too much to handle – the drawers are too full – and you don’t’ want to open them less they flood you. Or emotions come up at strange times and you wonder “where did that come from?”
When we avoid, we create a junky future. And we dishonor ourselves in the process. We disconnect from the hard parts.
Perhaps if we started meeting ourselves, during this time when we are literally stuck with ourselves, is part of the answer. Meeting yourself with compassion. Honoring what is coming up for you. Knowing that it’s all ok and it won’t swallow you up. Allowing yourself to feel is a way to re-connect with yourself.
You can survive hard things. This is an opportunity to allow life in rather than brace for it. Lean in. If we put aside our favorite distractions – or started noticing when we disconnect – and pledge to meet what comes up. Perhaps then we would flip the script on the looming mental health crisis.
“How are you today?” I asked my son this morning.
“Pretty good, actually. I’m still kind of sad, but I’m also learning more about the actor. I’m going to tell people about him.”
“Nice. You are doing it.”
“Doing it?” He asked.
About the author:
Anne has worked in healthcare for 20 years at both the micro- and macro-levels. For the last two decades, she has worked within the healthcare “system” in order to elicit improvement. Anne has expertise in health program & content development, analytics, and business operations; she works for organizations large & small, focusing on healthcare quality and care transformation.
Anne is a registered yoga teacher, a leader in meditation and breathwork. She serves as the Board President for Sea Change Yoga, offering trauma-informed yoga and meditation for all.
Through these efforts, both corporate and fringe, Anne realizes that the power of one’s health and wellbeing resides within. Whether on a conference call or on her mat, she strives to remind you of this with each breath.
Anne loves to run, write, and yoga with her family in Falmouth, Maine.