Happy Birthday Pandemic! One year of mental health struggles

Happy Birthday Pandemic! You brought us one year of mental health challenges and the stress of just wanting to make it through somehow – knowing that this is the least empowered mindset to be in.

Congratulations, you grew bigger and already developed a real character full of surprises. With only one year of existence you keep everyone on their feet. You manage to draw attention 24hrs a day and need a whole new infrastructure just to cater for your needs. Unfortunately you also caused a majority of us a steep decline in mental and physical well-being.

Several surveys confirm that your birth of COVID-19 caused “postpartum” stresses like breakdowns, burnout, anxiety, low mood, depression, insomnia for many. Your unpredictable and sleepless nature required us to redefine our caring responsibilities. And believe me, we would not always agree and oftentimes slip. We had to rearrange work, cancel play, socially distance and adapt new standards of hygiene only for you.

A recent free article in the FT highlights a survey on the effects of the pandemic on office workers’ mental well-being around the globe. The UK and Hong Kong ranking top and second on mental health being most negatively affected. Financial Services and media being represented industries amongst others.

While for many participants flexible work arrangements also brought upsides like reduced time to commute, the possibility to workout during daytime and engaging more with family, the same circumstances of “flexible” arrangements led to physical stress and emotional and mental imbalance.

Negative effects showed in unhealthy lifestyle choices, overworking and the dissolution of boundaries regarding time, space and social environment. Moreover, restrictions to public life and leisure activities contributed heavily to the feeling of being trapped at home, limited in self-care choices and the pursuit of hobbies.

My experience with clients mainly in Hong Kong, but also via Zoom from Australia, Japan, Singapore, India, Europe and Central America goes hand in hand with the findings of the survey. However, a few big stressors have to be added from my professional perspective. Many struggle with:

  • Worrying, anxiety and sadness about the impossibility to see and involve their family and friends. Zoom does not help to look after children or to accompany someone to the hospital or a doctors visit. Stress is often exacerbated when we have not heard from loved ones in a while or can’t reach them. Leaving us helpless and powerless.
  • The lack of support from educators and employers regarding the setup and proper management of working and learning remotely with proper parental control and at times always-on expectations – Sunday like Monday. An avalanche of adjustments to life has to be dealt with and often within the shortest timeframe.
  • Long distance relationship being emotionally tested by the uncertainty of travel restrictions, tough cash-flow decisions when considering to move or to stay and the nightmare of literally feeling out of touch. Spontaneity is a concept long gone, the zest of life often losing the battle with mechanically functioning along the scheduled tasks lined up from morning to nighttime.
  • Short distance relationships being tested by simply having nowhere to go, for example when one partner takes a few days off – at home. The unfulfilled longing for a few hours of solitude and creative expression. But also the unfulfilled longing for being able to miss our partners and our craving for romance.

A healthier mindset

It is all too easy being absorbed by a one year old, in particular if the baby is a superhuman pandemic. This birthday also marks one year of great and skilful adjustment. Discovering energy and the ability to deal with problems we did not know we possessed. Here is to not forgetting ourselves, our self-care and dignity!! Here is to celebrate one year of upholding, growth and wisdom. Cheers to having been able to adjust to the great challenges, to newly found strengths and to rediscovery of our true priorities like family and friendship.