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Should We Carry the Mental Load of Others During Stressful (Pandemic) Times?
Jan 7, 2020
Nargis Rahman
contributing writer
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Nargis Rahman
contributing writer
By Nargis Rahman
We’re five months into the pandemic with no clear sight on the end in the near future.
Overnight (and over the subsequent months) people lost jobs, family members, and many found themselves parenting and working from home while trying to hold onto their mental health. Social, economic and racial inequities, which has always been around, became even more so painfully clear. By mid-April it was evident that school wouldn’t reopen for the rest of the year. Being home presented its own challenges for me – an extrovert with anxiety.
Image source: Pixabay
The Greater Good Science Center at the University of Berkeley found that people across the world are facing more stress, anxiety and depression during the pandemic due to potential or real health problems, changes in job situations, caring for loved ones, loneliness and possible lack of safety in our homes (due to domestic violence or other forms of abuse). People who deal with racism and/or are from disadvantaged groups have more mental health struggles.
For me, the downtime at home gave me too much time to think.
Some weeks I was consumed with freelance writing work, working early mornings and nights. Other weeks I took time to pause and be present with the kids. In the beginning, we were on top of exercising, going on walks around the neighborhood. Other weeks I feel sluggish, unsettled and have trouble sleeping with disturbing dreams.
On Facebook, I noticed in the past few months that many people asked if anyone was having vivid dreams. A lot of people responded, saying they were having anxiety and stress-induced dreams.
I’d have a relaxed day and out of nowhere, I felt sudden unsuspected dread.
It was like my brain was saying, “Hey you seem relaxed right now. This is a good time for you to process that one suppressed emotion you have. Figure out why you haven’t moved on from that. You are capable of figuring it out.” My mind was screaming back, “No, not right now.”
While my “unfinished business” is rooted in reality, at times its imaginations of “what if things go wrong?” mind games.
Through therapy I’m exploring using my wise brain, rather than depending solely on my emotional or logical brain, and figuring out when and how to deal with the emotions. Most importantly, to trust myself as I sit with my feelings, allowing my emotions to pass through my body as I figure out what unfulfilled need I have to address and validate. This is hard uncomfortable work!
Every so often my family and friends check-in with me and each other to share our anxieties, frustrations and wins. However, I feel guilty for not checking in first, more often. This business of checking in, which many of us are doing with each other or feel compelled to do, brings me to this question – what if we don’t have the mental capacity to do so? Should we hold space and help carry the mental load for others while going through our own mental health journey and struggles?
Recently I did a poll on my personal IG page with this post from @ayush.astic, “During this pandemic, you do not see who your real friends are. No one is under the obligation of checking on you and making sure you are okay. Most people are already fighting their own (expletive). I feel like we constantly need to remind ourselves that the entire world does not revolve around us. Testing people loyalties during a pandemic is idiotic.”
On my poll, 84 percent said they agreed while 16 percent said they disagreed.
My friend JoAnne Halaweh, a clinical social worker said it depends. “I agree and disagree – we shouldn’t be testing each other beyond what we are already being tested with. But the sense of humanity is at the forefront, we should be able to at the very least text those we care about every so often to check on them. We are all struggling and need our social supports.”
I have a hard time not caring about others. I feel a sense of duty and importance in maintaining relationships. As the oldest child in my family, I feel responsible for checking in with my parents and siblings, although I do not shy away from saying, “No, I can’t do anything about that right now.” I am making more effort now than during the beginning of the pandemic, as I have been able to settle some of my own fears.
(Image: Nargis Rahman) Over the years I have been practicing creating healthy boundaries; however, it is a struggle. I take on more than I should and have to pull back. During the pandemic, I have had to ask myself to be more mindful of people’s situations. I feel guilty about dumping my problems onto others but have a strong support system. We tend to use humor as our basis for coping while encouraging problem-solving and working through the tougher things with a professional.
At the same time, I make a mental note to check on those who I know are dealing with personal struggles, because I know what it feels like to think you’re alone and no one cares. I’ve noticed the people I primarily follow up with are people I regularly kept in touch with.
If you’re looking for ways to check-in with others, the has this list of ideas while shares ways to support and grieve with others.
Personally, checking in for me has looked like this: Asking interviewees how they are doing before doing an interview, joining Zoom calls to learn new skills as much as for human interaction, venting about the daily ups and downs, texting people to see if they’ve feeling like me, and occasionally texting someone after months or years to see if they are indeed, hanging on. It’s about the best I can do in this pandemic situation.
I believe there is no right or wrong way to keep in touch, but it goes back to intentions. For me, it’s more about maintaining and mending relationships rather than forging new ones while understanding that we’re all going through this together, albeit in different ways. It’s oddly comforting to have similar situations with people – things like struggling with childcare as a parent, working from home with others in the home and learning how to adapt to each situation.
While the pandemic has brought about uncertainty, it has also brought on time to think about each other.
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