‘It’s okay to not be okay’
By Dr. Adrienne Toogood
COVID19 has been long, and we are continuing to manage this new, ongoing reality. A silver lining has been the openness of individuals publicly discussing the impact of COVID on their lives. Perhaps their willingness to share honestly is leading us to a place where we are starting to recognize that it is okay to not be okay.
And if we all agree that it is okay to not be okay, what do we do now?
In order to talk about the idea of ‘it’s okay to not be okay’, let’s break this article into three specific areas that you might be experiencing right now: I am stressed. I am tired. I feel nothing.
I am stressed
Human beings are wired to avoid things that are hard. To lean away when things are uncomfortable. And we can do that for a short period of time, but it does not help us to stay mentally well. In psychologist Susan David’s TED Talk, she shared her concept of emotional agility. It is important to be curious and compassionate when we feel emotion and to have the courage to lean into discomfort. As Susan suggests, “perhaps discomfort is the price of admission for living a meaningful life.”
We understand when our body is stressed, we know how to pay attention and what the signs are that we are not physically well. But how do we even know we are mentally stressed? Take time to familiarize yourself with some common signs that you need to pay attention to your mentally health and begin to think about what you can do to help yourself stay in a place that allows you to better manage ongoing daily stress. This mental health meter is one tool that can help you identify some common signs that you can pay attention to in order to monitor and take action to support your mental well-being.
Our own brain can contribute to the stress we are experiencing in any given moment. We all know that time travel is not available to us, so our body is always in the present moment, while our brains and our minds are not. How do we anchor ourselves and bring our mind back to the current situation, especially when our head is creating stress? These three things can help you to gently bring your mind back to the present.
- Take time to slow down with our breathing (inhale for a count of three and out for a count of six)
- Notice things in our present environment (name three things you see)
- Ask yourself: what is important now?
Continuing to do this is an ongoing process, as our minds are built to wander.
I am tired
Everyone is tired right now. And when we consider what is happening with the global pandemic, it just makes sense. Zoom fatigue is a real thing, we are speaking to people virtually for the first time in our lives and there are new cues to figure out in this virtual setting. We are being required to pivot and adjust multiple times a day, and all this decision-making and adjustment is contributing to overall fatigue.
It’s also hard to get away. We can no longer quickly escape to vacation destinations, and our work is at home. As such, we need to re-think how we take care of ourselves and ensure that we pay attention to our emotional fuel tank. Like a gas tank, humans need to ensure that their emotional tank does not get empty.
There are several self-care strategies we can use to help us mitigate stress such as taking care of our body, connecting to others, increasing movement, doing meditation, listening to music or reducing media exposure. Know yourself. Pick one or two and incorporate self-care into your life. Dr. Cal Botterill is a mental performance coach who has worked with numerous Olympic and professional athletes, and he has learned that for athletes to reach their potential, they need to take care of themselves. In fact, he says that “looking after yourself first may be the most unselfish thing you ever do.”
As you fill your tank, you need to consider the many ways in which we need to rest. This TED article suggests that rest is multi-faceted and human beings need physical, mental, sensory, creative, emotional, social and spiritual rest. How do you rest right now, given the current realities of living in a global pandemic? And what does this mean for how you weave rest and recovery into your life? Take time to read the article above to learn more about the 7 types of rest.
If you want an extra three weeks of vacation, take 15 minutes each day to take care of yourself (so consider getting some water or doing a stretch between meetings, or taking your dog for a quick walk, or maybe look out the window and notice the wind in the trees). Remember, just 15 minutes a day of intentional ‘me time’ adds up.
We are all different, be honest about what you need. As Shakespeare said: “this above all, to thine own self be true.”
I feel nothing
Some of us are completely shut down. Many people have begun talking about a concept called languishing. We are not necessarily depressed, but we are apathetic, we cannot get going and we just don’t seem to really care as much.
The Harvard Business Review wrote an article on this idea of regression, helping us realize that we are not alone. This pandemic has been long and has included many phases, and as such, we have gone through many iterations of emergency, regression and recovery. If you find yourself not feeling much, you may be stuck in regression. Take time to read this article to help you better understand your current state.
What do we know about people who are psychologically resilient and able to stay well when things are hard? We know that they stay connected to their why, they focus on what they can control, they connect with other people, and they embrace the opportunity to get better through challenge. So, grab a journal or a piece of paper and write things down. These are some questions you can reflect on to help you create a resilient mindset: What is in my control right now? What do I want to feel right now and how do I create more opportunities for that? How can I grow or get better during this time? And who can I connect with that helps me feel better?
Maybe it is ‘okay to not be okay’ after all …
Life is different now. The sooner we accept that the better off we will be. Become an expert in you and what you need to be well.
It is okay to not be okay.
Know when you are struggling, be kind to yourself, and have the courage to do what you need to stay well.
Dr. Adrienne Leslie-Toogood has spent the last three decades competing and consulting at the highest levels of performance, specializing in creating ‘human first’ brave spaces. Adrienne is a licensed psychologist, adjunct faculty at the University of Manitoba and co-founder of Heroes In Our Midst. Dr. Toogood’s clients have ranged from individual Olympic medalists, teams and coaches, to PGA Tour winners, Grey Cup Champions, and World Champions. She is currently the owner of Toogood Consulting Inc. and the Director of Sport Psychology at the Canadian Sport Centre Manitoba, working at the individual and system/team level. She has extensive experience with other performers including air traffic controllers, RCMP emergency response team members, corporate executives, firefighters, and emergency medical doctors. She believes in empowering people to ‘embrace their humanity’ so they are able to ‘elevate their performance’. Her personal mission statement is “passion, commitment and intensity unleash a new freedom of an energetic, balanced and holistic person who is healthy for life”.
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