5 mental health lessons we can’t afford to forget from 2020

The pandemic has been a huge strain on our mental health. But there is a silver lining in that we’ve become more in-tune without psyche than perhaps ever before. Psychiatrist Dr. Frank Chow explains the lessons from 2020 we should carry into the future.

It’s no secret that 2020 has been tough on everyone. The changes brought on by COVID-19 have tested our perspectives in all aspects of life, the good, the bad and the ugly. Isolation has challenged us to adopt new ways to assess and take care of our physical and mental health.

Terms like ‘social distancing’ have now become normalised, printed on every corner of every street. It’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed by the challenges presented throughout the year, as we’ve been forced out of our norms and our comfort zone when it comes to our safety and wellbeing.

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The challenges brought on by this “pandemic year” have affected each and every one of us in different ways. It might have forced you to reconsider your priorities in life, your work-life balance, your physical or mental health as well as your relationships, financial situation and more.

Nonetheless, if we look at this year with a glass-half-full mentality, COVID-19 has also brought about some valuable lessons about hardship, conquest and triumph personally and professionally that we can learn from and use beyond this “pandemic year”.

Here are the mental health lessons we can’t afford to forget from 2020.

1. The power of priorities

COVID-19 has forced some of us to rethink our life and decide what’s really important. From time to time, it’s important to realign our priorities in life.

Ask yourself, what are your personal (or professional) priorities? This is all about maximising your personal wellbeing. When the priorities you set align with your core values, you’ll feel a sense of worth and satisfaction.

2. Be ready to adapt to change

The pandemic has changed the world as we know it and accelerates change at a pace that wasn’t possible before. If 2020 taught us anything is that we have to be agile and resilient to adapt to these changes. We have to be ready to deal with the implications and life adjustments that are required from the increased flexibility of work and the digital advancement in technology in our workplace.

3. The importance of maintaining your relationships

The worldwide COVID-19 restrictions imposed upon us this year have forced many to revisit the value and importance of relationships in our lives. It faced us to leap out of our comfort zone and reach out to family, friends and colleagues.

Old connections have been strengthened, new connections formed and as a result, our support networks have triumphed.

The year 2020 has taught us the importance of social interactions, reaching out to one another and the value in times shared with those you love.

4. Financial decisions

Financial instability can affect one’s mental health significantly. The economic impact of COVID-19 has affected a lot of people’s job security, not just at an individual level but at an industry level. It has forced us to revisit our financial situation and make tough sacrifices that we thought we would never have to make.

We have learnt some challenging financial lessons from 2020 and having a financial backup plan is increasingly important to prepare for any future adverse life situations. With the world now encouraging us to spend more and take on more debt, we can step into 2021 with a new sense of resilience and eagerness for opportunities presented by the year ahead.

5. Prevention is better than cure

The uncertainty that comes with the new normal might have a significant impact on you and your mental health. Looking forward to 2021, surround yourself with people that can provide you with a good observation of your situation, and be open to the idea of seeking out professional help if you find it hard to stop worrying.

You are not alone in this journey. When it comes to your mental health, it is much better to intervene sooner rather than later and there’s always someone you can reach out to.

This year has provided plenty of lessons learnt but most importantly remember to be kind to yourself, give yourself some time to process the situation, work out the impact of the circumstances and decide how it affects our perception and view on each of these challenges.

Dr. Frank Chow, MBBS, FRANZCP, FPOA, AGSM EMBA is the director and psychiatrist at 2OP Health, a specialist organisational and occupational psychiatric service in workplace-related mental health.