By Bonnie Markham LMSW September 2022
The world has been changing fast and it is hard to keep up. When COVID started, it exposed long forgotten and new challenges. Fear of the unknown and isolation created an increase in depression and anxiety among other things. The World Health Organizations reports in the year 2020 alone anxiety increased by 25%. This increase put a strain on the existing mental health system. There simply were not enough providers to serve the surge in people needing therapy.
An article published March 2022 by Counseling Today addressed counselor burnout due to the pandemic. Interestingly enough, the burnout rate of counselors was roughly the same as before the pandemic. The author attributed this to counselors showing more compassion and resiliency. But the article also discussed a higher level of counselor fatigue due to going home to face the same concerns as their clients.
I experienced COVID in a very real way, almost losing my life in July 2022. This experience gave me insight on how fragile our lives really are. My resiliency was in the strength it took me to fight my way back every day. Medical science said I was going to die, but through countless prayers, my stubbornness to stay on this 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 good mental health. As a society we have to learn to relax, unplug, and play more. This can be challenging as prices for essentials continue to increase; but if we don’t recharge our batteries our physical and mental health will continue to deteriorate. This can leave us hollow, a shell of who we once were. Our stress levels continue to climb until we can’t hold our fragile shell together. Then the smallest situations can cause us to crack; exploding emotions, or shutting down. We have to learn to cope. Coping skills come in many forms; take a walk, notice the sights, sounds, and smells of the outside, touch the leaves, sip 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 easy sight. When I need a break, I pick up my paintbrush, my chalks, my pencil and doodle away. Music is also a way of taking a break, it doesn’t take long to listen to a song. I often choose songs that are upbeat and catchy. Music is powerful and if I listen to a song that takes me back to a sad situation it does not always help me cope. I have ventured to oldies such as big band, and jazz; or I may put worship music in the background while I am working. It doesn’t matter as long as it works for you; stop and take a break.
Travis Bradley, an author who works for Quartz referenced a study done by the Draugiem Group where they digitally tracked the work habits of employees. Bradley 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 that kept working and skipped breaks were the least productive. Science tells us to take a break! Bradley also explained that not breaks are 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 an option, talk to a coworker for a few minutes, read for pleasure; YouTube videos don’t count. Checking your emails or returning phone calls is not a break! That is still work!
We can always find excuses not to rest, relax, or take a break. Remember we can only sprint short term. In the long run we have to pace ourselves, this is relevant for our mental health as well. I have been guilty of working through the weekend to do notes, research, and prepare for next week's clients. I learned by coming to the brink of death, I can’t invest in anyone if my own batteries aren’t charged.
One of my personal favorite ways to recharge is watching my grandkids; exploring, making me mud pies, telling me about their day, calling me to ask for advice. Spending time with people I love, who in turn love me is not something I can put off until I “have time.” I use creative arts, like painting, not for the goal of finishing a piece but for the joy of painting. I throw off restraint, leave pictures unfinished, and go back to them later. I paint over it with my fingers. It is about creating, not having a finished piece of work. This is how I continue to progress. I am not finished yet. I am growing each day 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 from work, pursue a hobby you are passionate about, just breathe, relax, and if you feel like it, maybe 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.