The last year hit like a ton of bricks. No one was truly prepared for the limitations, restrictions, and consequences that came with a year of quarantining. But even though the world appeared to hit an indefinite pause button, life and work had to continue—even if they were in completely different forms than what we’re normally used to.
While we’re seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic changed the way we live for a very long time. From stricter travel precautions to physical distancing protocols, many steps were taken to combat this invisible threat. However, the uncertainty and devastation of the pandemic have had a significant impact on many people’s mental health. Others are even experiencing fear and anxiety about a return to “normalcy.”
As we make progress in combating COVID-19, we checked in with three of our employees to see how they were doing and how they’ve managed their mental health throughout the last year. Not only did they tell us about what they personally experienced, but they offered mental health advice to anyone in need.
How has the last year or so been on you, emotionally, socially, physically, etc.?
Marc Malpeli, Managing Director – ES Healthcare: “It’s been very challenging. I am someone who enjoys going into an office and seeing and meeting people. Having to work from home during quarantine was definitely not an easy transition for me.”
Eriny Tawfik, Learning & Development Specialist – Corporate HR: “In a word? Challenging. This pandemic has really thrown down the gauntlet and I’ve been working on my response since March! In reality, this past year has held moments of both joy and tribulation. Physically, I am thankful for my body and the fact that it has kept me going through a global pandemic. I feel really fortunate to be able to say that. Socially, well that’s where the problem comes in. I am a social person—and I mean that. It’s been a common theme in my life to gain energy and perspective by being around the folks that I enjoy, and the pandemic had essentially eliminated that (until the vaccine rollout). I find myself more aware of the time I spend with my people now that it’s safer to do so (thanks, vaccines!!!). I value it more than I used to, so there’s a silver lining! Emotionally? That’s a tough one. On one hand, I am feeling grateful and excited to be moving into a summer that has some potential. On the other, I am generally more anxious than I was before this whole thing started. I am happy to see a light at the end of the tunnel—even if the other side looks different from what I’m used to.”
Alison Kuhns, Senior Managing Director – ES Healthcare: “It’s been pretty rough honestly! Everything is starting to normalize, but I can say this is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I think in the beginning, just like everyone else, being home felt novel and we were doing the things we’d never had time for – making sourdough bread, teaching my oldest son to ride a bike, organizing stuff. We got chickens, which my husband had been begging me to do for years. But after it became clear that this was going to be a long haul, there was a lot of burnout from the extra workload, extra togetherness, and the stress of everything. On the one hand, it felt like a strange gift to be able to stay home with my kids—like a very extended or extra maternity leave. There are small moments when I love it and feel so lucky. On the other hand, it’s really hard to stay mentally healthy when you’re spending 24 hours a day taking care of kids while also trying to keep everything else around them going as well.”
How would you normally deal with mental health and how did that change during the middle of a pandemic?
Marc: “Normally, I would go out to bars, restaurants, concerts, sporting events, or even travel with my friends if I ever was feeling down or having a tough time mentally. During the pandemic, the two things I did that had the most positive effect on my mental health were meditating and reading. Both helped calm my nerves and quell any anxiety building up.”
Eriny: “Prior to the pandemic, caring for my mental health was something I did when I had the time or when I was really feeling burnt out. It was a full day (or weekend) long event during which I pampered and treated myself (i.e., getting my nails done, watching tv, and eating donuts). These days were few and far between and rarely actually happened because they only came when I was in a tough place or feeling too overwhelmed to do anything else. That’s changed entirely during the pandemic. I learned very quickly that I shouldn’t wait until a breaking point to be kind to myself. Also, it’s no longer about letting myself lounge on the couch and eat too many sweets. Now, I care for my mental health every day in the little ways that matter. I create a schedule for all the things that I have to get done and I stick to it. I establish my boundaries and I stick to them. I buy groceries that will keep me healthy and taste delicious (no more eating kale just because it’s kale). I have a little dessert after every meal. I make my way outside in the morning and again in the evening because it soothes me to start and end my day with some fresh air. It really is the little things. Who would have thought?”
Alison: “My team and social interactions in the office were pretty key to my sanity. Our job can be stressful and it became even busier during COVID-19. Not being able to see my teammates daily made me feel lonely. Zoom calls, zoom happy hours, and other virtual team building activities are what we do to make up for the lack of in-person interactions. I also have a weekly zoom call with friends. I used to read books on my commute, and now there’s a lot more tv! My husband and I drink a lot of cocktails. We do a lot of family walks and park visits. Getting outside is essential for me.”
Have you adjusted your routine drastically according to the circumstances or have you translated your day-to-day functions seamlessly?
Marc: “My day-to-day routine changed drastically, and it was not an easy transition, I used to be an early bird. But during quarantine, I found myself becoming a night owl and my work, eating, and sleeping habits completely changing.”
Eriny: “I guess a little bit of both. There have been things I’ve changed, but all for the better! I switched roles in the middle of all of this so my day-to-day functions are much different. When I was still recruiting, it was a very seamless transition, mostly due to technology. Before we left the office, I made sure to back up anything I needed on OneDrive. I was able to access everything from home without the lag. Starting a new role virtually was also a challenge, but again, by utilizing technology I was able to hit the ground running and my day-to-day functions are seamlessly completed.”
Alison: “Initially, I was working roughly the same hours, but they were less productive hours. You aren’t getting as much done when a kid is sitting next to you doing remote learning, and my 2-year-old interrupts a lot even though we have someone here helping us. So now, I take the pockets of time that I need to – I have lunch with my daughter, I walk my kids to school, I take a walk with my family, and I usually work about 3 hours every night to catch up on whatever didn’t get done. If I’m being honest, I’m usually behind on something, but it feels more balanced than it did initially. There are weeks I work all the time and weeks it just doesn’t work out that way, but I try to utilize the productive time I do have and hope it all evens out in the end.”
What activities/methods do you use to help keep yourself fresh and sane?
Marc: “I realized that a daily and steady routine of meditating, yoga, and reading has really kept me stay calm and keep my mental health balanced. Keeping my body right was vital for my mental health.”
Eriny: “A significant part of my role requires talking…. all day long. So, when I wrap up for the day, I don’t turn the TV on and I don’t call anyone. I just sit in silence for as long as it takes me to unwind (about 15 minutes). As much as I love the sound of my own voice, I need a break from having to use it. I enjoy the quiet a lot more than I used to – it helps me decompress and have a fresh mind so I can avoid becoming overwhelmed. Also, I try a new restaurant every week! My absolute favorite thing to do is enjoy a nice meal with my people. Take-out was great but being vaccinated has allowed me to actually go to restaurants again. And for the second time, thanks to vaccines! It helps me feel grounded to share a meal with others and to do it in my community – the vibe is 10/10 every time.”
Alison: “I do not get a lot of personal time to myself. My days are filled with work and kids. While I’d love to say I’m doing yoga at night to stay sane (that would be my sanity-keeper of choice), it’s mostly filled with catching up on cleaning, lunches, putting toys away, filling out school forms, and catching up on whatever work items did not get done because I was interrupted by kids. We did start doing some activities as a family that helped. The main thing we implemented during the pandemic was family walks – every evening, and during the height of it we did them every morning too. Sometimes kids brought bikes or scooters, sometimes we just strolled. The structure was good for our family since it got everyone outside and moving. We also started doing puzzles as a family. There’s usually one set up in our dining room and its ongoing until we finish it and start another. People walk by and do it for a few minutes, sometimes we do it together. I was never a puzzle person before this, but now I find it very relaxing. We also took a few trips during the last year and I think that did wonders for us as well. Even if we were still isolated as a family, having a change of scenery helped us all.
What mental health advice would you give someone who has been struggling with throughout the last year or so?
Marc: “It’s important to realize is that most people struggled with mental health during this unprecedented year. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We’re all in this together, so make sure to reach out to someone if you find yourself struggling in any way or seeking mental health advice. Many people are in the same situation and can give any help or pointers on what worked for them.”
Eriny: “Taking care of your mental health can be complicated. It’s helpful to reflect on what is important to you and how you can dedicate yourself to you and the people you care for! I know we’ve all heard it time and time again, but we truly can’t pour from an empty cup. If you are feeling overwhelmed with something, pause, and care for yourself. You’ll get it done much quicker and more efficiently if you’re at your best. If resting for an hour—even if it’s in the middle of the day—is going to charge your battery, it’s the right thing to do. I get more done if I take the time to get to 100% and then work for two hours than if I work for five hours on 10%. Also, food is fuel. Try not to skip meals!
Alison: “The first mental health advice I’d give is to cut yourself some slack – this is an IMPOSSIBLE thing we have all had to do – impossible for the people who haven’t had income in a year, impossible for the people feeling isolated and bored because they were alone in apartments for months, impossible for the parents who were trying desperately to keep their kids occupied (and safe- if you have toddlers) while also not losing their jobs. Houses were not as clean, work was not as productive, and bodies are not as healthy. We all just have to be forgiving with ourselves and each other. Mental health is not a box to check; it’s fluid and not often particularly logical. If you’re in a rut do whatever you have the capacity to do to pull yourself out of it, even if it’s a tiny thing– take a walk, get moving, take time off, exercise, have a glass of wine, spend some time alone if that’s in short supply. The answer will be different for everyone, but try something until it works. I’m also a huge believer in therapy. I think everyone should do it at some point in their lives.”
If you or someone you know has a mental illness, is struggling emotionally, or has concerns about their mental health, there are ways to get help. Here are some resources for help.