the well-th report
living well-thy
How We've Coped During the Pandemic (and What It Means For The Future of Mental Health)
It’s been a hard year.
For so many, the past 14 months have been defined by loss, by fear, by stress, by anxiety. Concern for personal safety and the health of loved ones spiraled into financial fears, job security concerns and stress over how to balance work and life without ever leaving home. Though we see glimpses of hope and a slow march toward normalcy, the pandemic has left an indelible mark on our psyches.
Last month, the American Psychological Association revealed the results of a mental health survey conducted during the pandemic. That survey indicated widespread mental health concerns, including 48 percent of respondents reporting increased levels of stress, 23 percent reporting “drinking more alcohol to cope with stress,” and a majority (61 percent and 67 percent, respectively) of respondents reporting disruptions in their weight and sleep habits.
As we hopefully approach the end of this pandemic, we can breathe a collective sigh of relief that vaccines will protect our physical health, and government stimulus combined with a reopening economy will protect our financial health. But we can’t neglect our mental health.
Returning to normal can’t happen if we don’t allow our psychological traumas to heal. As offices reopen and we reintegrate into society, it’s important to live well-thy—and that starts by taking care of our mental health and the mental health of our employees.
The COVID Catalyst
Americans were silently suffering from mental health issues long before COVID-19 crept into our lives. According to McKinsey, “behavioral problems such as anxiety, stress, and depression were widespread” well before the start of the pandemic. Those problems created a domino effect of subsequent issues, including difficulties in the workplace.
The stresses of the pandemic pushed an already struggling nation over the edge. The CDC noted several stress-inducing realities for workers during the pandemic, including anxiety over virus exposure, employment insecurity, new tools and communication methods, and balancing work and family commitments. According to McKinsey analysis, “COVID-19 could result in a potential 50 percent increase in the prevalence of behavioral health conditions.”
In the face of overwhelming stress and anxiety, people turned in droves to online therapists and digital mental health tools. In early March of 2020, Online Therapy, an online-only therapy site, saw “a more than 30 percent increase in new clients compared to the week before,” according to Business Insider. Similarly, mobile therapy app Talkspace saw rapidly accelerating growth.
We might view the rise of online therapy as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s troubling that so many people are in clear distress. On the other, it’s promising that people are willing—and able, thanks to technology—to get the help they need. Articulating the need for help and having the courage to ask for it are the first steps toward healing.
Prioritizing Mental Health as We Reopen
As vaccination rates rise, masks are discarded and we prepare to head back to work, it’s important for individuals and companies to prioritize mental health now and in the future.
The return to “normal” won’t happen overnight—nor will it erase the trauma we’ve collectively experienced over the past year-plus. As workers return to offices, they still have plenty of worries on their minds. Concern over physical health and virus exposure may remain, as well as worries about unvaccinated children and difficulty adjusting to this new normal.
The good news is that companies seem to be making a shift in their approach to mental health. A growing number of corporations understand that optimizing their workers’ mental health is not just the right thing to do—it’s also good business.
According to a 2015 study, individuals with major depressive disorder created a $210.5 billion burden on the economy, thanks in part to decreased productivity at work and the associated healthcare costs of comorbidities. As McKinsey notes, “Companies are recognizing the costs associated with not addressing employees’ mental health issues…That’s because mental health prospectively predicts the incidence of serious—and expensive—medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer and coronary artery disease.”
A growing number of companies are taking note—and they’re offering mental health benefits including online therapy, meditation, apps and mental health days. According to CNBC, meditation app Headspace saw “a greater than 500 percent increase in inbound interest from companies seeking mental health help for their workforce.” As workers return to offices, many can be confident that their mental health needs will be met.
Mental Health in the News
Recently professional tennis star Naomi Osaka said she wouldn’t participate in mandatory press conferences because she wanted to preserve her mental health.
“I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media,” Osaka wrote in a statement. “I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try and engage and give [the media] the best answers I can. … So here in Paris I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious and so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences.”

Unfortunately, she was not supported in this and was fined $15,000 for skipping the first-round press conference. The French Open has been criticized in the past for its rigid bans and elitist undertones. More on that here.
Even though The French Open has a long way to go, the fact that this story was covered widely is a step in the right direction. The more we talk about mental health, the more the stigma will slowly melt away.
Self-Care Tips to Support Your Mental Health
Get regular exercise Do what makes you feel good. This can mean different things for different bodies but make movement a part of your routine to help boost your mood and improve your health.
Make sleep a priority Stick to a schedule and make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Blue light from devices and screens can make it harder to fall asleep, so if you can’t sleep, swap in a book or listen to a podcast or music rather than watching TV.
Try a relaxing activity Relaxation can mean different things for us all but some activities you could try including meditation, muscle relaxation, breathing exercises or journaling.
Set goals and priorities Decide what must get done now and what can wait. Learn to say “no” to new tasks if you start to feel like you’re taking on too much.
Practice gratitude Remind yourself daily of things you’re grateful for. Be specific. Write them down at night or replay them in your mind.
Stay connected Reach out to your family and friends who can provide emotional support and practical help.
A Silver Lining
If we can find a silver lining to the dark raincloud that was this past year, it’s this: mental health is becoming less of a taboo topic, especially in the workplace. As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we all must take care to be as healthy and well-thy as possible—and that starts by taking care of our mental health.