Our Mental Health: The Little Things
Perhaps healing from a pandemic does not qualify as a “little thing,” but let’s discuss it anyway and see if we can find some bite-sized takeaways.
COVID-19 did us wrong. It is called COVID-2019 and here we are in 2022 still feeling its effects. Healing from this pandemic is important. And it’s time, I hope. History teaches us most situations present an opportunity to learn and grow — and even a situation as dire as this global pandemic may offer this chance. Let’s consider our collective experience, empathy as an outcome, and the benefit of learning and patience in allowing us to adapt and persevere.
Despite our many differences as individuals, we made adjustments to our daily routines together — donning masks to leave our homes, using so much hand sanitizer the cracks in our hands stung, getting used to grocery delivery, not being able to visit our family and friends in the hospital, and so on. Today, what we do each day is different (anyone change careers?), where we do it is different (do you work at home or in the office now?), and how we do it is different (prefer online or in-person classes?). We experienced these changes together, collectively, and over time. These collective experiences connect us with each other and this promotes empathy. Empathy allows us to better understand what our family and friends, acquaintances, and even strangers think and experience. With empathy, we can imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes and, with the pandemic, we have better developed this sense because we often wore the same shoes at the same time. When we make the effort to imagine what someone else is thinking and feeling, we are poised to act in ways that promote harmony.
Exercising this empathy can be good for our own mental well-being and even others’. As we move into what I imagine most of us hope is the back end of this experience (not with COVID necessarily, but with the shock of loss, mandates, and isolation), be honest, don’t you still flinch when you hear someone cough in public? If so, rather than simply react, use your sense of empathy to navigate the situation with care and respect by realizing there may be unknown variables you can’t see, perhaps quietly creating physical distance rather than engaging in public conflict. I have creatively engaged my own empathy in similar situations and the benefit was a reduction in my “anger experience” and I also avoided needlessly bringing negativity into another person’s day. A win-win.
We move onward from this pandemic experience individually, but also in tandem as part of our larger society. As this happens, while it may be tempting to sprint forward (or backward?) in making changes from what we have now come accustomed to during COVID times, instead, slow down … be patient … take time to reflect on what truly challenged you, pushed you out of your comfort zone, and consider practices you find you now appreciate but would never have known about without this pandemic experience. Humans are gifted at learning which allows us to adapt and persevere. Our recent pandemic experience can easily be thought of negatively but, instead, challenge yourself to identify your positives so we benefit by learning from this experience. Having these experiences and solidifying clear takeaways like the power of empathy produced via collective experience makes us stronger and better able to approach unknown territories we are not able to predict in our still upcoming futures.
Let us use empathy, encourage patience, and act with the collective good in mind and in heart as we navigate this “new normal” together.
Christina M. Frederick, Ph.D., is a cognitive psychologist and the Director of Research with Sapience Practice in Reno. She has spent her career in research and teaching and has a passion for working with others on research.