Thoughts from a Therapist on 2020

It's OK to Not Be OK; Thoughts from a Therapist on 2020

Written by Christy Aquino, Licensed Mental Health Therapist for UnityPoint Health

It’s been a year, and everyone is feeling the effects of trying to make the best of a global pandemic, damaging storms and fires, a contentious political atmosphere and other significant events happening all around us. Because World Mental Health Day is about taking self-inventory on what you need to feel healthy and happy, take a moment to reflect on the how this year has affected you. What stands out for you? What changes have you experienced? What losses have you suffered? 

Do you long for:

  • Meetings around the long table while people shoot the breeze
  • Having face time with co-workers or listening to your favorite podcast on the way to work
  • Gathering with friends and family without hesitation
  • Going to the movies or concerts
  • Celebrating birthdays and anniversaries with large groups
  • Connection for your children
  • Vacationing
  • RANDOM HUGS

People need socialization and things to look forward to – but right now those things are largely restricted or downright ripped away.

Many people are feeling a loss of control this year, which can cause stress, anxiety, depression and even in some cases, dangerous behaviors such as eating or substance abuse disorders. In fact, these behaviors are happening in unseen numbers as people try to figure out how to cope during such a chaotic time. 

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics:

  • One in three Americans are dealing with symptoms of stress or anxiety.
  • COVID-19 has tripled the rate of depression in U.S. adults in all demographic groups – especially in those with financial concerns.
  • Relapse and overdose rates have increased by 30 percent since March 2020.
  • Hotline calls to the National Eating Disorders Association are up nearly 80 percent in recent months.

These statistics are alarming, but with the right help, you can take back your power. The pandemic has put people’s emotions into overdrive, as fear, worry, sadness, anger, frustration or guilt have become predominant feelings for many. Take notice of what’s causing you grief and offer yourself some compassion. All feelings are valid, and none are right or wrong. 

Here are five ways to help you cope:

  • Stay connected. When we take time to authentically connect, we feel less isolated and often learn our struggles are shared by others.
  • Find the negative. Try to identify negative thoughts, where they come from and work to balance those thoughts.
  • Take a walk. Exercise, like walking, releases endorphins that’ll naturally make you feel better.
  • Focus on breathing. Try taking four breaths in and four breaths out for five minutes.
  • Take a mental health day. One day away from work can help relieve stress and help improve your wellbeing.

Can you take a mental health day from work? Absolutely. Look into your employer’s policy and take paid time off or a sick day – whatever is right for you. If your employer is supportive, feel free to share your reasoning but don’t feel obliged. Normalizing mental health struggles can have a positive, comforting effect on co-workers who may be wondering if they should do the same. 

How to spend your mental health day depends on you. Lounging in pajamas while binge-watching TV might be an option. Or try getting away to a park, bike trail or new outdoor space to explore. It might also mean spending dedicated time meditating, doing yoga or writing in a journal. 

Your mental health day could also be used to talk with a professional. If you need us, UnityPoint Health experts are available to help you process thoughts, feelings and emotions. When you’re feeling “stuck,” talking to a counselor or psychologist is one of the healthiest things you can do for your mind and spirit. You matter to this world and we are here – if you need us.

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