By Bonnie Markham LMSW September 2022
The world has been changing so fast it is hard to keep up. When COVID started, it exposed challenges we had not faced for a significant amount of time in the US. Fear of the unknown, and isolation from people created an increase in mental health symptoms, especially anxiety. The World Health Organizations reports in the year 2020 alone anxiety increased by 25%. This increase in mental health symptoms put a strain on the mental health system, there simply were not enough providers to serve the surge in people needing therapy.
In an article published March 2022 by Counseling Today; it addressed counselor burnout due to the pandemic. Interestingly enough, the burnout rate of counselors was roughly the same as before the pandemic. They stated this is due to counselors showing themselves more compassion and the resiliency of counselors in general. The article also stated there is a higher level of counselor fatigue due to counselors facing the same concerns as their clients. Counselors are treating their clients then going home, having the same concerns about their loved ones.
I experienced COVID in a real way, almost losing my life in July 2022. This experience gave me insight on how fragile our lives really are. My resiliency was shown in the strength it took me to fight back every day. Medical science said I was going to die, but through uncountable prayers, my stubbornness to stay on earth, and hard work I am still here.
I believe in investing in people, meeting them where they are, supporting them as they take the next step towards healing. I hear their stories of determination to make change, to move towards healthy mental health. As a society we have to learn to relax, unplug, play a little more. This can be challenging as prices for essentials continue to increase. BUT, if we don’t re-charge our batteries eventually our physical and mental health will continue to deteriorate leaving us hollow, a shell of who we once were. Our distress levels will continue to climb until we can’t hold our fragile shell together. The smallest situations will cause us to crack, either in explosive emotions, or shutting down our emotions.
Coping skills come in many forms, taking a walk, noticing the sights, sounds, and smells of the outside. Touching the leaves, sipping cold water, concentrating on being instead of doing. I love to use creative arts to distract myself from the worries of the day. I usually have a project, or three, out in plain sight. When I need a break, I pick up my paintbrush, my chalks, or pencil and doodle away. Music is also a way of taking a break, it doesn’t take long to listen to a song. I have to choose songs that are upbeat and catchy. Music if powerful, if I listen to a song taking me back to a sad situation that does not help me cope. I have ventured to oldies such as big band, and jazz. Or I may put on worship music in the background while I am doing my work. It doesn’t matter what works for you, stop and take a break.
A study was created by the Draugiem Group, they used a computer application to track the work habits of employees. Travis Bradley, author who works for Quartz, wrote there is a work rhythm that is most productive. They found employees that worked 52 minutes then took a 17 minute break were the most productive. The employees which kept working and skipped breaks were the least productive. Even Science tells us to take a break! Bradley also stated all breaks aren’t the same, you have to walk away from your computer, taking a walk is one of the best ways to take a break. If that is not available, talk to a co-worker for a few minutes, read for pleasure, YouTube videos don’t count. A break also is not checking your emails or returning phone calls, that is still work!
We can give ourselves many excuses not to rest, relax, take a break. In a sprint we can continue short term. In the long run we have to pace ourselves, this is very relevant for our mental health. I have been guilty of working through the weekend to do notes, research, prepare for the next weeks clients. I learned through facing the brink of death, I can’t invest in anyone if my batteries aren’t charged. One of my personal favorites is watching my grandkids explore, making me mud pies, telling me about their day, calling me to ask advice. Spending time with people I love, whom in turn love me is not something I can put off until I “have time.” I use creative arts, not painting for a goal of finishing but for the joy of painting. I throw off restraint, leave unfinished pictures, go back to it. I add, paint over it, put my fingers into the paint. It is about creating not having a finished work. This is how I continue to progress, I am not finished yet, but I know I am growing today by giving myself the strength to face the next day. I encourage each one of us to honor our mental health by taking those breaks, pray or meditate, look up, pursue a hobby you are passionate about. Just breathe, relax, and if you feel like it put your fingers in some paint.
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She provides outstanding telehealth services in Arkansas and Idaho.
Recent testimonials for Bonnie:
AS Bonnie is very good with my daughter and getting her out of her shell. She has more confidence and skills for coping with her anxiety since starting with Bonnie.
WS Bonnie allowed me to feel safe and not judged no matter what I was having to talk about.