Written for Daily Hive by Helen Fishburn, CEO of Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington, in honour of Mental Health Week.
For the past two years, we have been encouraged to “stay home,” and now we are shifting to “learning to live” with the virus.
This shift in messaging calls on us to adopt a shift in mindset, from one of avoidance and fear to one of resilience and adaptability. Changing measures and messaging do not mean we will return to pre-pandemic life. While we are eager to move forward, anxiety, stress and fear will still run high over the next several months, and the mental health fallout from the pandemic will certainly last much longer.
Given the pandemic toll on our collective wellness, it’s more important than ever to practice empathy, for others and ourselves. Practicing empathy helps us regulate our emotions, connect with others and feel less isolated. Empathy allows us to think of others and look for ways to help. Whether chatting with a neighbour, donating to a local charity or picking up groceries for a friend, an act of kindness can go a long way. When we do something good for others, we lift their spirits and our own.
It’s also important to have empathy for ourselves. We can make our lives much more difficult if we set unrealistic goals, based on pre-pandemic expectations. The level of stress and worry that we have been carrying continues to impact our daily lives, and we may not be functioning at the level we were prior to the pandemic. Practicing self-compassion and managing expectations as we adapt to changes will be important as we adjust to the next phase.
Employers are also facing challenges like never before and need to employ empathy with their teams. Mental health is as important as physical health, and there is still work to be done when it comes to dismantling stigma. It continues to be essential for leaders to listen and respond to the changing needs of their employees. Humanizing mental health issues, offering flexibility and supporting inclusive cultures will help create psychologically safer work environments.
It is more important than ever to practice empathy and kindness as we work together to navigate this “new normal,” and this will not be an overnight shift. It will take time for us to get back to enjoying the activities we have not done in a while. Everyone will have a different response or reaction to any further changes in regulations, so considering the experiences and backgrounds of others before passing judgment can go a long way in avoiding conflict.
As we learn to live with COVID-19, let’s also learn to live with hope. We are all in this together. Think about the experiences and struggles of others, reach out whenever and however you can and ask for support if you need it. We have had enough division and pain in our community. It is time to come together to respect differences, to live with the ongoing uncertainty, to accept and embrace each other…this is how we will physically and emotionally heal from the ravages of this pandemic.
Helen Fishburn is the CEO of CMHA Waterloo Wellington. Helen is a lifelong advocate for increased awareness of mental health issues and has dedicated her career to advancing the design of an improved mental health care system. Helen was recently recognized as the 2021 Champion of Mental Health: Community award by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health.