I’ve been talking to friends, colleagues, and clients a lot lately. Needless to say, we are all curious to know how each of us has experienced lockdown.
What has become evident is how much mental health comes up in these conversations. Everyone knows someone who is taking undue strain and not coping too well under the weight of it. Not to say life wasn’t pressured before, but it seems working from home (WFH) is not for everyone. Most especially, those facing an uncertain employment future and/or financial constraints. I was amused at first with the most common complaint amongst my business peers. The quandary they experienced when working from home, was not the kids or the partner or the dogs, it was “at the office, someone always did these things for me.” I smiled, as I thought I was the only incompetent when, just last year, I moved from my comfortable office environment to my very comfortable but zero resourced home office.
For these people, the most common technology challenge, besides setting up our office space or having the video on or off during a meeting, was when signing in to a Zoom meeting and finding out that everyone’s already in the room waiting for you on Google Meet! It’s like going to the wrong building, let alone the wrong boardroom. It’s funny, but it’s not. The stress that this creates within your body brings on a lot more than the momentary panic that arises as you try to figure out how to access a new program within minutes whilst determined not to look ‘tech-challenged’. And then the meeting begins, and you pretend everything is just dandy.
Our nervous system is a wonderful piece of machinery, but continuously having our amygdala send out signals warning of yet another ‘almost-car-crash’ is about to playout, signaling for you to prepare to run, attack or freeze is not healthy. This all happens in those few seconds while you’re trying to move from one digital conference facility to another. It does not bode well for the body and your general mental and physical wellness and out of your comfort zone and it’s going to manifest somewhere.
That’s just one example of a cause, but the manifestation is where the real medical issues arise. I am aware of several developing severe eczema, hives, and even shingles. While extremely uncomfortable, things get better more quickly as they can talk about it, take it to a doctor and to some extent pop a pill, and, provided you are aware what caused it, (and Ideally get yourself a coach to help you manage your time and stress) you may be better in about a month or two.
Not so for those who cannot describe what they’re feeling and don’t talk about it. They either know what’s going on and suppress it or have no idea. I recently came across this Ted Talk by Johann Hari, titled, “This could be why you’re depressed or anxious.” A great view. It has nothing to do with WFH or COVID, but he had me the moment he described to his doctor, how he was feeling as: “I feel as if the pain is leaking out of me”. Such a poignant way of describing depression.
He refers to the nine causes of depression, two of which are chemical imbalances in the brain. The other seven relate to imbalances, in the way we live. The fact that human beings are wired to connect, and, when this connection is broken, whether in truth or belief, most often, opens the door to depression.
Think about it. Humans see themselves connecting for common causes such as eating, celebrating, learning, working, sharing, all of which offer positive experiences or outcomes. How often do we get our friends together, to be honest, and talk about how crap we’re feeling? How lonely, sad, or angry we are?
The tragic truth, Johann Hari explains, is that “We are the loneliest society in human history.” We know that technology and social media play a valuable role in connecting people but they are not a replacement for human touch and interaction.
After years of researching his book, Humankind, and 1000’s of interviews he shares simple solution to depression. Community.
It may not be a quick fix, but, creating a community around someone who suffers from depression, i.e. people to listen and care, goes a long way to healing. Better still, if they too suffer from depression. He says that within this “community”, finding meaning and purpose is the ultimate goal and must be facilitated. We know that one of the most important keys to resilience is why people like Nelson Mandela can spend 27 years in jail and walk out with calm and dignity, and why Viktor Frankl survived Auschwitz. It’s because they had purpose and meaning in their lives.
Needless to say, lockdown was not helpful to many people. Not by any means! As it’s slowly lifting, so too should we be making efforts to reach out and check in on those who may have experienced loneliness or stress during the past four months. Heck, go beyond just a check in, make sure they have people around them, things to do, a reason to get out of bed in the mornings. It is this that makes the real difference. And if you’re one of those, I implore you, reach out. The world does care.
While you will seldom know whether the ‘pain leaking’ is a chemical imbalance or the other type, the advice is to stay connected and attentive. There is no shame in reaching out for a laugh, a chat, a cry. Hari sums it up nicely, he says, “we live in a machine that is designed to get us to neglect what is important about life.” Covid-19 has somewhat put a stop to that machinery. We’re less distracted by our FOMO. There’s less activity to indulge in. Let’s find the upside in it and do good by someone or ourselves.
Lockdown is almost over. Masks and social distancing are here to stay for a while. If you’re reading this and you’re one of those who have a sense of “the pain leaking out of you”, become aware of it and act. Set an internal alarm clock that tells you that when this happens, you’re are not alone. It is not a sign of weakness, but courage. See this unnamed feeling as a signal that something is out of balance and that we need to act on it. Reach out. Go out, be with people. Depression and anxiety are real and it needn’t be something you ‘do’ alone.