According to a study released by the American Psychological Association in 2020, 92% of adults say their mental health is worse than this time last year.
“We are all under many different stressors that many of us have never experienced before,” said Dr. Paul Thomlinson, executive director of Compass Health Network. “We have had one or two of these kinds of things, but having them all at once, which is the calling card of 2020, everything all at once, all the time, that’s a tremendous stress load.”
When asked if there is a particular struggle that sticks out to him, Thomlinson said all of the uncertainty about the future.
“I think you know one of the things we are not well equipped to do, from an evolutionary standpoint, human beings don’t like uncertainty,” Thomlinson said. “We don’t like not knowing what happens next, we don’t like unpredictability, and we have so much of that now.”
There are some steps you can take to make it easier to cope with all of the uncertainty. According to Thomlinson, one of those things is connecting with other people in times of stress, whether in person or virtually.
“From the social psychology research, when people are under stress, and things are uncertain, we need other people more than ever,” Thomlinson said.
Thomlinson also suggests people having trouble with uncertainty try meditation.
“Mindful meditation is a really powerful technique, and I know people can get a little wigged out about it, but it’s really simply the idea of getting connected to yourself and finding your center, and there’s really nothing more important than that,” Thomlinson said.
Coping with the stress of an uncertain school year
The APA says 87% of Gen Z says education is a cause of stress and 82% say uncertainty about the school year is causing stress.
For parents worried about their student’s success during this uncertain school year, Thomlinson says you must take care of your needs first.
“[Parents] are so guilted into focusing on their kids relentlessly, but self-care and focusing on yourself and making sure your own thoughts are together, and you have someone to talk to,” Thomlinson said. “That’s job number one; make sure you take care of yourself so that you can be of help to your kids.”
It is crucial to make sure you talk to your kids at their own pace.
“Talk about it as casually as possible, what’s going on, what they’re seeing, what they’re thinking and feeling and another cliché thing, validate those feelings,” Thomlinson said.
Thomlinson also said sticking to a routine can help your student be successful.
“Of course, with the uncertainty with school, routines are our friend; another thing human beings are not good at is being cut loose with no routines and no structure that can lead to all kinds of anxiety and even depression,” Thomlinson said.
So how do you know when it’s time to ask for help?
Thomlinson describes some of the signs to look for: Are your thoughts and feelings become unmanageable and starts impacting your day-to-day activities such as eating or sleeping? Or do you no longer enjoy the activities that used to make you happy?
“All of those kinds of things when it really starts to impact and make impossible day-to-day living that we have been accustomed to, then it is probably time to think about reaching out and getting some professional help."
People who are already struggling with mental health challenges or with substance abuse issues might also experience worsened symptoms.
“One of the things we worry about in behavioral and mental health, those folks already struggling with mental health challenges or with substance abuse issues because we know this is a perfect storm for exacerbation and making worse those issues that already exist,” Thomlinson said.
If you or someone you know is experiencing these signs, you can call the Mid-Missouri Crisis Line at 573-445-5035 or the National Mental Health Crisis Hotline at 1-800-395-2132. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741 to get help.