We are living in surreal and unsettling times in both America and the UK. Depression has doubled in adults in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to The Guardian: “Younger adults, women, key workers and disabled people were among those most likely to suffer depression during the pandemic, as were those in households unable to afford an unexpected expense, according to the ONS.”
America and the UK have been hardest hit by COVID-19; both countries have the highest number of deaths caused by COVID-19. The UK has lost over 41,403 people in a population of over 66.65 million; the US has lost 170,000 people in a population of 328.2 million (this article was written on August 21, 2020). The pandemic has traumatized millions of people, creating further suspicion, division, and polarizations among fellow citizens. The cumulative effects of the lockdown, fear, and hyper-vigilance have impaired many social norms.
Furthermore, the pandemic has exposed social injustice, grave economic inequality, and systematic racism in North America, Western Europe, and “The Five Eyes” (which comprises Australia, New Zealand, Canada, America, and the UK). The death of the late George Floyd, the sheer brutality, the shock of seeing an innocent black man gasping for air, and being murdered by an unscrupulous policeman led to worldwide protests. The death of the late George Floyd “legitimized” Black Lives Matter, which was hitherto viewed by many as a radical and potentially “dangerous” organization.
COVID-19 has also exposed another corroding thread increasingly affecting our nations: poor health. Wellness should not be the preserve of the wealthy and more privileged members of our society in 2020. Wellness is more than physical exercise and eating healthily. I would suggest that nurturing the mind is of equal importance. Good mental health and a gentle spiritual practice can improve and enhance the human body. This sounds rather evident, but learning to develop a new healthy lifestyle requires a change in attitude and an effective support system.
If I draw upon my own experience, I have required a support system whenever I’ve attempted to make both subtle and drastic changes in my life. Throughout adulthood (since I sobered up from alcoholism and drug addiction at the age of 21), I have had non-shaming, competent, and spiritually fit men and women assist me through life’s vicissitudes. I cannot develop personally to my full capacity without well-grounded people to hold me accountable.
This is where many struggle to make the necessary changes to improve mental and emotional health. They are afraid to come out of hiding and reveal themselves; their deepest fears and unhealthy thinking control them (most of us have had warped views on all sorts of things); they are terrified of being exposed and therefore would rather suffer in silence.
I know what it’s like to numb out and avoid my darkest thoughts and emotions; it’s a terribly lonely place and keeps us stuck in survival mode. The stress, the burden of it all, chips away at our sense of self. The pain of untreated mental illness is truly harrowing.
The way in which we approach our physical, emotional, and mental health requires some degree of self-awareness. To practice self-care, or what I call “super self-care,” we need to have a better understanding of our habitual thoughts, beliefs, feelings, emotions, and habits.
It was LeLand Val Van De Wall who once said, “The degree to which a person can grow is directly proportional to the amount of truth he can accept about himself without running away.” This may appear as somewhat of a tall order, but what is the alternative? I appreciate that it can be very painful to address emotions such as resentment, rage, regret, chronic shame, and excessive guilt. Similarly, addictive behaviors, codependency, and self-harm can be very difficult to arrest.
Nevertheless, it is possible to overcome them. When we accept what has been haunting us, talk about it with an appropriate person, and feel and process our emotions, serenity can be realized. Self-awareness, self-compassion, gentleness, fellowship, and love make healing possible.
What practical steps can you take to enhance your wellness this month? Is there a particular addictive behavior that is adding to your suffering? Do you have a goal in mind to improve your physical and mental health? It might be worth pondering these questions and discussing them with a trusted friend.