Mental health in times of stress

Mental health in times of Stress

Mental health in times of stress and career uncertainty

The current COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of career uncertainty for people all over the world and associated mental health in times of stress. Whether you were looking for work before the pandemic or were in a seemingly stable position, the current situation has shaken things completely. Entire industries, such as tourism, have ground to a halt. As lockdowns were put in place worldwide, movie theatres, restaurants, and local attractions have closed down. New businesses struggled to survive, and nearly everyone felt the ripple effects. Many seemingly unaffected companies paused new projects for the foreseeable future. Some employees had the option of transitioning to working from home, but many others lost their jobs. Among those fortunate enough to keep their jobs, many had to endure pay cuts.

The uncertainty and stress are enough to make anyone anxious or even depressed. For people who have already been struggling with mental health issues, the current situation can aggravate their pre-existing conditions.

How can we take care of our mental health in times of stress and career uncertainty?

  • Acknowledge that this is a difficult time. As a society, we tend to push the “just walk it off” narrative. We love stories of people who preserved through hardship and never let anything knock them down until they became wealthy and successful. We normalize “side hustles”, getting by on little sleep, and surviving on coffee and late-night glasses of wine to survive. This position can be extremely harmful to our mental health. Repressing emotions can lead to physical issues, as well. You don’t need to deny your reality or put on a brave face. You’re going through a tough time.  Not knowing when you’ll return to your job or find a new one is scary. If you have children, aging parents, or other people to take care of, the thought of losing your income can feel paralyzing. The need to deny our reality and push it away can be tempting, but remember – “what we resist, persists.” Sit with your feelings, breathe into them, and remember than there is space for everything you feel.
  • Practice gratitude. Practicing gratitude doesn’t mean that you have to ignore the things you feel you’re losing and your life’s difficulty. It doesn’t mean that you should “just look on the bright side.” Your anger, confusion, fear, and anxiety are valid and normal. However, letting them take center stage in your life can lead to depression and bitterness. Take the time every day to note the things in your life that you do have. Try not to write the same things every day, and move beyond “I have my health and family.” Feel into what you can appreciate – don’t just write something that you think you should appreciate. Was there nice weather? Perhaps you got an extra serving of friends when you ordered food? Did a conversation you had with a friend leave you motivated and energized?

    Ideally, you will create two separate lists: one for things that you’re grateful for, which can be external and as random as you want (the rainbow that was out, the funny dream that you had, a compliment you received). The second list should focus on the actions you took, as well. Did you manage to cook a new, delicious dish that day?  Perhaps you managed to exercise even though you really didn’t feel like it, or finally got around to that chore you’ve been procrastinating on for months. This list will help you get your dopamine hit from positive actions that you are taking. You’ll be able to look back on this list and feel proud of yourself for bettering your life. It’s a constant reminder that your worth isn’t tied to your employment status or the amount of money you’re making.
  • Stay consistent with good habits. When we feel down, it’s normal to reach for the things that comfort us, like junk food and binge-watching TV shows. When we’re low is when we most need healthy food, exercise, and healthy social interaction. Find ways to make it easier for yourself to incorporate healthier habits into your life. Set a time with a friend to exercise together, online if needed. Making cooking a new challenge, or focus on simple, quick recipes that are also nourishing (smoothie bowls are a go-to for me). Start meditating for just a few minutes every day. Give your body and mind what they need, as if you were taking care of a small child.
  • Take this time to re-evaluate your next career plans and learn new skills. Most of us have a long mental to-do list that we never get around to doing. Have you wanted to change direction for a while? Now might be the opportunity. Look at online courses in topics that you find exciting and engaging.
  • Do at least one work or career-related thing a day, no matter how small. It could be sending your CV to friends and editing it based on their feedback and tips. One day might be reworking your LinkedIn or other relevant webpage or social media account. The next day, send out several applications.
  • Make time for social connection every day. Even if you cannot meet with friends, a short phone call, or even messaging a loved one can do wonders for your mental health. Many of us tend to isolate ourselves when we’re going through a hard time, as we don’t want to burden those who care for us. That’s when you apply “don’t believe everything you think.” When you’re hurting is when you should be reaching out.
  • Mental health care is a priority. If you don’t have a therapist already, now is the time to find one. Many therapists and counsellors are offering online sessions at affordable rates. Self-help books can be an invaluable tool in the journey to emotional regulation and unlearning destructive habits.
  • Set a schedule for yourself. When we’re overwhelmed, it can be tough to make decisions. Lowering the number of decisions we have to make daily can help you go through these times of uncertainty when your stability has been disrupted. Decide what you’re going to do every morning when you wake up, so you don’t find yourself lying in bed, contemplating whether to have breakfast first or go for a walk.
  • Forgive yourself for making mistakes. There’s a good chance you won’t implement all of these tips. That’s OK. We can’t do it all. Remember that this life is a journey, and everyone has different stops along the way. None of us started in the same position, nor should we end at the same place. Your main job in this life is to be the best you that you can be.
  • And most importantly, remind yourself every day that your worth is not dependent on your productivity. Remember, there is no shame in asking for help or going through a difficult time. It is important to manage your mental health in times of stress and career uncertainty.

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