It's not self-indulgent to indulge yourself

Sunday, May 02, 2021 1:00 am

Marcia Haaff

It's the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month, where we shine a spotlight on that part of our health that is often ignored, dismissed or stigmatized.

The observance of Mental Health Awareness in May is important because mental wellness is critical to the overall well-being of healthy humans.

I want to propose that 2021 be the year for change. Let this be the year we talk about hope for all those who are silently dealing with anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

To be sure, as a result of COVID-19, 2020 was a year like no other. Isolation. Grief. Job loss. Sacrifice. Sorrow.

Anybody you ask can recount something or someone they mourn, whether it be the loss of a family member to COVID-19 or the cancellation of a wedding, graduation, family holiday, church attendance or even the regular rhythms of life – the comings and goings of work, school, sports and social activities.

Our community, our nation, our world have been through a lot, and it's taken a toll on our collective mental health. In a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June 2020 – just a few months into our prolonged period of isolation – nearly 41% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health and/or substance-use issues:

• 31% reported anxiety or depression symptoms.

• 26% reported trauma/stressor-related disorder symptoms.

• 13% reported they started or increased substance use.

• 11% reported seriously considering suicide.

An even more shocking statistic comes from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service, which reports that, in 2020, its Disaster Distress Helpline experienced an 890% increase in call volume over the previous year.

There is no doubt that the pandemic has taken a tremendous mental and emotional toll on our society. Humans are relational creatures. For most of us, isolation is not good.

Now, a year later, we are glimpsing a return to “normal.” No one is sure what that will look like, but I would like to challenge us all to make a commitment to an important life-change called self-care.

Self-care looks different for everyone. It can be a daily walk to get fresh air, or a bike ride through Foster Park. It can be FaceTiming a friend or relative. It can be allowing yourself a long soak in the tub with a book, allowing yourself to have a break from your kids, or taking a drive to one of our local parks to watch the sunset.

Maybe it's just taking a drive... a change of scenery can work wonders for your mental health.

Even during non-pandemic times, self-care is important for life balance. But in times of high stress, it's critical that we all find ways to unwind, treat ourselves to something good, feed our souls and socialize.

We're not through the pandemic yet.

Checking in on family and friends continues to be important, but owning our own self-care has never been more critical.

Even as life starts returning to “normal,” take care that you don't jump headlong into the incredible busy-ness that marked our pre-pandemic lives. There has never been another you on this planet. You are unique and special. You matter.

Now is the time to treat yourself like the special person you are.

Marcia Haaff is CEO of the Lutheran Foundation.

The opinion piece appeared in the Journal-Gazette on May 2, 2021.

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