I know, such an original title for a blog piece. It’s just that this information seems so practical I had to choose a practical title. My Capricorn nature won out this round. We’re known for our practicality. So, it looks like we’re beginning our recovery from the pandemic caused by COVID-19. And depending on where you are in the world determines where you are in the recovery process. That said, I’m fairly certain we will all be going through some type of recovery process, and in this blog piece I hope to share some information that might serve you in your process.
But how did I get to a place of realizing I was in a recovery process you ask? Unfortunately it was a surprise awareness that struck me in the form of a deep depression. Generally speaking I’m a fairly chipper person and well-motivated when it comes to attending to my day-to-day life. But this past week I woke up feeling like it was the end of days. Again, not a normal experience for me. Yes, I have down days and anxiety from time to time, but this depression was different, it was deep. I felt like there was no purpose to my life, I wasn’t interested in doing anything, and it ended up taking me the entire day doing all that I know to do as a professional working in the personal growth space, to dig myself out. And it was in this process that I made some, what I’ll call, significant discoveries.
Whenever I’m out of sorts in any way I almost immediately move to exploring the whys.
I speak with a few friends who are either great listeners and coaches or I talk to actual mental health professionals. One friend in particular, who is a therapist, let me know she’d been seeing more depression in her practice and experiencing it herself. She also sent me a revelatory article written by Sarah Lyall for the New York Times entitled, “We Have All Hit a Wall.” It was published on April 3, 2021. Here’s a link to read.
This article by Sarah Lyall is about confronting late-stage pandemic burnout, and reading it gave me such a sense of relief. Yes, actual relief, because there was a reason for what I’d been feeling and I wasn’t alone. And I know that when I’m feeling down, depressed, hopeless or unmotivated it’s so easy to feel isolated. That morning when I woke up depressed, I felt like I was inside a cave, all by myself, and without any chance of survival despite the fact that my surroundings painted a completely different picture. I live in a beautiful home with a loving partner, have loving friends and family, and work that supports me. None of these things were anywhere in my consciousness this particular morning, just doom and gloom. But why?
In Sarah Lyall’s New York Times article she quotes Todd Katz, executive vice president and head of group benefits at MetLife who said, “Malaise, burnout, depression and stress – all of those are up considerably.” MetLife interviewed 2,651 employees. 34 percent who responded said they feel burned out, up from 27 percent from last April. 22 percent said they were depressed, up from 17 percent last April. Okay, so one might conclude that this is just working at MetLife, and specifically reflective of that particular industry. But there’s more.
Sarah goes on to write about the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), quoting their most recent “Household Pulse Survey.” 37 percent of those surveyed reporting feeling anxious or depressed. In 2019 the number was 11 percent. Additionally, Sarah writes that the New York Times surveyed 700 people from all walks of life professionally, and found their mood was strikingly similar. And it didn’t matter whether they retained or lost their jobs. Sarah said, “the picture they painted was of a work force at its collective wits’ end.” Sarah goes on to quote Dr. Margaret Wehrenberg, an expert on anxiety and the author of the book “Pandemic Anxiety: Fear, Stress, and Loss in Traumatic Times” who writes, “When people are under a long period of chronic, unpredictable stress, they develop behavioral anhedonia,” meaning the loss of the ability to experience pleasure in their activities. “And so they get lethargic, and they show a lack of interest – and obviously that plays a huge role in productivity.”
Have you noticed anything like this? Having difficulty finding joy in the little things that used to bring you pleasure?
I have. It’s like the trauma of the past year has trained my brain not to expect too much – too much adventure, joy, aliveness, or dare I say even hope? And who could blame any of us for feeling this way after being hauled up in our homes for a year, seeing and/or directly experiencing all the COVID deaths and of course the tremendous upheavals around race in America, and a divisive political system, combining to create a very disturbing ecosystem for all of us. Sometimes going a bit numb becomes a protective device and our brains have somehow naturally figured out how to do this. Please see Dr. Wehrenberg’s quote above.
The pandemic has had a very real effect on all of us, and in any analysis of our mood, our productivity, our relationships, and our lives overall, it is of tremendous help and I’d say importance to understand that there are significant external forces at play driving the daily experience of our lives right now.
It’s okay. You’re not alone.
One example from my own practice recently had both me and my client laughing. I asked my client how she was doing, but before she could respond she went blank for a minute – literally. We both just started to laugh. There was some unspoken understanding between us both regarding what was happening. She then said her mind was like that circle we see spinning round and round on our computers when some program or information we requested is loading. I started making circle motions on my forehead saying it would be great if us humans could have that loading circle on our foreheads. My client and I began laughing even more and then we imagined our foreheads with a loading bar or even an error message. Because, let’s face it, our brains are doing all of the above – spinning, loading, and coming up blank these days.
In Arianna Huffington’s newsletter “On My Mind,” from April 4, 2021, she writes about a paradigm shift taking place around workplace productivity brought on by this past year of working from home forced on us by the pandemic. She says, and I’m paraphrasing a bit here, that never before in the history of workers has such a large experiment taken place. Observers of the corporate landscape discovered we’re getting burned out, and often via the same technology that’s been a lifeline this past year, and while we’re working more hours we’re missing deadlines and getting less done. Arianna also talks about the importance of redefining how we’re working and the absolute necessity of, “Imbedded well-being as the foundation of developing and nurturing human skills. Companies must nurture empathy, creativity and mental resiliency (see my last blog piece), and that leaders need to be Chief-Well-Being Officers in order for their companies, read employees, to thrive.”
So how can you be the Chief-Well-Being Officer of your life?
That’s the question I had to face head on this past week. I had to take the depression bull by the proverbial horns and take action to care for myself. I had to consult a counselor, read that New York Times article, eat super healthy, not drink any alcohol, do a walk and a workout at the gym, pray, meditate, and drink lots of water, and I had to be creative and serve my clients that day. Serving them really helped me a lot.
I’m only offering you a little snippet here, but I hope it begins to get your wheels turning, gives you some hope, and assures you that you are so not alone. You really aren’t. We’re in this together. Help a sister and a brother out whenever you can. Let someone out of that parking lot into your car lane. Open a door for the mother with a baby in a stroller. Give someone living on the street a protein bar or a smile. All of this goes a long way. But first, give to yourself, and know that if you’re feeling depressed, or numb to the things that once brought you pleasure, this too shall pass, and it’s going to take the time it takes. In the mean while be kind to you. And as I like to say, you got this. You really do.
In this new time of pandemic recovery explore your creativity. Take a writing class, plant some flowers or veggies, maybe even rebuild an old car. Paint your front door a new color. Get some new towels for the bathroom or sheets for the bed. Or make a vision board where you take photos of the things you’d like to create in your life and put them on a board of some sort. Having visuals of what we want to bring into physical world manifestation can absolutely inspire and even light a fire under our imagination and our taking action for building our lives.
There are so many ways we can start waking ourselves back up again, but please go easy on yourself.
Take the up with the down. If you’re experiencing depression go for a walk. Please call a friend and talk it out. Go to an Al-Anon or AA meeting. Say a prayer. There’s help, and you’re not alone. And it’s a process not an event. Step by step we’re going to recover. Bit by bit. Day by day. And if all else fails, just take three very deep, slow breaths to let your nervous system re-set itself. This does wonders. You’re a wonder. And eventually you’ll see we’ll be living in wonder again. You can and you will do this, and I’m with you. I hope this little blog piece helps you in some way. And I’m sending you all love, and light for your recovery. May it be filled with grace, joy, adventure, and discovery. Again, you got this.
Barry Alden Clark is a writer and professional life coach. His work is focused on helping people live their best lives by acting as a guide for them to connect more deeply with their internal life force where creativity, purpose, and true freedom reside, while using humor, compassion, and kindness as hallmarks for the process of personal evolution. Recently Barry published his first book, “Living Life Now: Ingredients for Thriving In The Modern World,” now available on Amazon, and launched his new podcast “Living Life Now,” available on iTunes, Spotify and Google Music. You can reach Barry at www.barryaldenclark.com.
Image courtesy of Ivan Samkov.