The Pandemic Created a Watershed Moment for Emotional Health

Never before have we been so open to practicing psychological self-care.

Posted May 14, 2020

The pandemic has taught us all how to adopt preventative measures to protect our physical health. We now wash our hands with the skill and patience of an operating room nurse, we wear face masks in public, we practice social distancing, and any sign of a cough of fever sends us into a state of emergency. Yet, while many people will have their physical health impacted by COVID-19 everyone’s emotional health is impacted.

Social distancing, shutdowns, working-from-home, remote learning for school children, financial hardship, uncertainty about the future, not to mention the fundamental loss of our way of life are causing anxiety, stress, loneliness, interpersonal conflict, trauma, loss, and grief. The viral pandemic has spawned a psychological one that is thrusting emotional health to the forefront of our global awareness.

The Difference Between Mental Health and Emotional Health

Mental health typically refers to the existence or predispositions to diagnosable conditions such as clinical depression or generalized anxiety disorder. Emotional health, on the other hand, refers to common experiences that do not rise to the level of a mental health disorder but that impact our psychological well-being and our functioning nonetheless, such as loneliness, rejection, or rumination, or milder cases of depressed mood and anxiety that do not cross the threshold of being considered an actual mental disorder.

Loneliness can impair our executive functioning, rumination can impact our decision making, anxiety of any intensity can be disruptive to attention and concentration, irritability affects our communication and introduces tension into our relationships, and depressed mood can suppress our motivation and productivity. In short, it doesn’t take a mental health disorder to disrupt our functioning and general well-being — common emotional wounds and normative psychological responses to stress do it as well.

We usually experience these types of psychological events and pressures intermittently, which makes them more manageable. But now they are all happening at once. We’re all socially disconnected to a significant degree and a bit lonelier, struggling to adapt to a radically different way of life, anxious about ourselves or our loved ones contracting the virus, stressed by massive uncertainty about the future.

But this unprecedented and general assault on our psychological well-being also has an upside: It is shining a spotlight on the importance of emotional health and introducing large swaths of the population to the practice of emotional hygiene and psychological self-care. Companies are increasing programs to address their employees’ mental health and emotional well-being, teletherapy is now being reimbursed by health insurance carriers, media platforms are posting daily articles on managing anxiety, loneliness, and stress, all of which are being broadly shared via social media platforms.

The psychological legacy of the pandemic will be with us for many years, even after life has returned to whatever our new normal will be. We would be wise to use this time to develop and improve our psychological self-care and to expand or acquisition of daily habits that maintain and enhance our emotional health. Our emotional well-being, life-satisfaction, happiness, and productivity, as well as the quality of all our relationships and our mental resilience, would be forever enhanced if we do.      

Copyright 2020 Guy Winch