There’s no question that 2020 has been one of the most challenging years in recent memory for almost all of us, between a worldwide pandemic that has killed over 1.4 million people and a chaotic, often violent presidential election. These two subjects have dominated our news cycles and social media feeds every day, and the constant exposure to negativity and bad news can be toxic and dangerous. It’s important to stop and consider that mental health is just as important for overall well-being as physical health.
COVID-19 and Mental Wellness
COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has forced our mental and physical health to interact in ways that most of us have never had to deal with before. For example, getting out in the world to interact with others and exercising in the fresh air is a great way to improve mental health. Still, restrictions in many regions have made both of these difficult or impossible. Families and loved ones have been forcibly separated from one another for weeks or months. Nursing home patients are isolated from visitors. Even beloved pets being put down have to go without their owners in the room in some cases. Going out in public at all is putting yourself and everyone in your household at risk, and in some extreme cases, opening yourself up to criminal prosecution.
A bevy of pandemic-related stressors has sent symptoms of anxiety and depression through the roof in Americans everywhere. An NBC News study found that increased feelings of both have been found in all 50 states, particularly in densely-populated cities.
And although the world has been filled with news of people trying to support each other – like restaurants feeding hungry folks, healthy young people getting groceries for the elderly, landlords offering free rent and many others – there are just as many instances of people trying to take advantage of those less fortunate. For example, insurance companies have even been capitalizing on court delays to keep from paying out to car accident victims.
Social Issues and Politics Affect Stress Levels
It seems that nearly everyone has been affected by unemployment, evictions, remote schooling, restrictions on everyday life, and, in some areas, racial tensions. Nationwide protests over police brutality have made many afraid to go outside at all.
Stress over protests turning into violent riots seems to also be a particular symptom of 2020, given that tensions about politics are higher than they have been in decades. Donald Trump has inspired intense emotions toward him on the extreme ends of the scale, from worshipful support to vitriolic hate, and detractors and supporters alike spent the year consumed with anxiety over the presidential election outcome.
One psychologist looks at it this way: We know we cannot control the widespread virus that seems determined to wipe us out, so we turn to express our opinions on whom we believe is to blame. By finding a scapegoat for these strange new fears, we can give ourselves a sense of control over our destiny.
One striking survey done by the American Psychological Association found that almost 70% of those surveyed named the election a significant source of stress, compared to just 52% in 2016.
Ways to Manage Stress and Improve Your Mental Health
Fortunately, there are lots of proven ways to help manage your stress, whether it’s related to COVID-19, politics, or both.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published guidelines specific to certain groups, such as first responders, veterans, people experiencing abuse, parents, teenagers and children.
One of the most effective ways to decrease your stress is limiting your exposure to the stressors, especially social media and news coverage. You can give yourself designated time throughout the day to plug in and get the latest, and then the rest of the day, do something you enjoy. Read a book, take a walk, play with your pets or children, binge a good TV show.
If you’re quarantining at home, you can fend off the feeling of being stuck by developing a workout routine. YouTube and other sites are full of free workouts for every level, and many of them don’t require any special equipment.
Keep in regular contact with friends and family, even if you have to do it through Zoom or another video calling service. You can have movie nights, game nights, wine nights – whatever brings you together and makes you smile and laugh.
But speaking of wine, make sure you don’t turn to alcohol or other substances to cope. It’s OK to indulge now and then, but you shouldn’t be relying on any kind of addictive substance to avoid dealing with stress.
Other recommendations include developing a daily gratitude or meditation ritual, sticking to a daily routine, and more.
If you’re having trouble coping, the Texas Department of State Health Services has set up a mental health support line staffed by professionals, which you can access by calling 833-986-1919.
The team at The Cochran Firm Texas truly cares about helping you maintain your mental health and your civil rights. Feel free to contact us here or call us anytime at 800-843-3476. We’re always here for you.
Larry oversees the firm’s Mass Torts, Criminal, Employment and Civil Rights practice areas as well as leads our community involvement efforts. While Larry is active daily in Mass Tort litigation he continues to play a role in client communications, and those cases that involve everyday folks. He is an active coach in youth sports and sits on a number of diverse community stakeholder entities. Between growing up in Duval County Florida and Harris County Texas (3rd Ward, Acers Homes, Greenspoint) and raising his kids in rural Texas, Larry has gained an appreciation for those who struggle for a sense of fairness. From the client in Urban America seeking to be heard to the small town Rural American wanting fairness, it all resonates with Larry's need and desire to fight for them.