6 Mental Health Lessons Learned During COVID-19

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Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

While much of the focus of the pandemic was on physical health, COVID-19 also took a serious toll on our mental health. And it’s no wonder why. 

Remote learning, working from home, financial distress, media stories about death tolls, lack of social interaction, and ongoing uncertainty were just a few of the major stressors people faced over the past year. But the truth is everyone's experience has been unique.

Fortunately, the tough times also taught us some important lessons about mental health. Carrying those lessons forward into the “new normal” may help us remember to be proactive about caring for our psychological well-being.

Environment Plays a Huge Role in Mental Health

This year served as an excellent reminder that our environment plays a significant role in our mental health. When our usual activities were taken away—everything from going into the office to having dinner with extended family—most of us noticed a shift in our mental well-being.

The disruption to routines and lack of activity took a toll on everything from how well we slept to what we ate. No matter how mentally healthy we were prior to the pandemic, this year showed us that the people we interact with and the things we surround ourselves with matter.

Mental Health Is a Continuum

The pandemic taught us that you aren’t either “mentally healthy” or “mentally ill.” Mental health is a wide spectrum and where we fall on that spectrum varies from day to day—or sometimes hour to hour.

You might have noticed that your mental health slipped a bit during more stressful times. Even if you didn’t qualify for a diagnosis of depression, anxiety, or some other mental illness, your mental health might not have been as good as it could be.

Anything from watching the news to attending online meetings may have greatly impacted how you felt. And you may have become more aware of your mental health more than ever before.

Anyone Is Susceptible to Mental Health Problems

As more and more people talked openly about their emotional struggles, the stigma that can be attached to mental health problems seemed to fade a bit.

Celebrities, mental health experts, athletes, and everyday people stepped forward to discuss the toll the pandemic  took on their psychological well-being. This helped many people realize that they weren’t alone in their distress.

It’s Important to Have a Wide Variety of Coping Skills

Most people’s “go-to” coping skills were taken away this year. Gyms closed, gatherings with friends were discouraged, and large events were canceled.

Many people found themselves sitting at home without their usual mood boosters. Consequently, people looked for other coping skills, like doing yoga from their living rooms or reading books.

It reminded us that it’s essential to have many different tools to help us manage our emotions and cope with distress. While we hopefully won’t ever have to be quarantined again, there may be times when you lose access to your usual coping skills for one reason or another. Having a few extra tools in your toolbox can help you manage your distress when you’ve lost access to things you usually depend on to feel your best.

Online Therapy Is a Legitimate Way to Get Help

Many people who were seeing therapists in-person shifted to online therapy. Others began therapy for the first time with an online service provider.  Individuals, organizations, and insurance companies began to see how effective online therapy could be.

While some people may be excited to get back to seeing a therapist in person, others may choose to continue online therapy. Not having to commute to appointments and being able to talk to a therapist under more flexible terms (like messaging at any time) might be benefits some people don’t want to give up.

Building Mental Strength Is an Ongoing Process

It’s easy to feel mentally strong when life is going well. But the disruption of the pandemic reminded many of us that we have some room to grow.

The twists and turns of the pandemic also showed us that we should never declare ourselves “strong enough.” Just like your physical muscles need ongoing strength training, so do your mental muscles. Otherwise, they’ll grow weak.

We have opportunities to build mental muscle every single day. Whether you choose to write in a gratitude journal or you challenge yourself physically, you can work on decreasing self-doubt, managing uncomfortable feelings, and taking positive action. 

Press Play for Advice on Mental Strength

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how you can build mental strength after the pandemic.  Click below to listen now.

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A Word From Verywell

Transitioning to a “new normal” stirs up uncomfortable feelings for a lot of people. Some are worried about physical safety. Others are sad about all the things that have changed and all the things they missed.

But if we can get through the pandemic (even with a few more emotional scars), we can surely deal with the emotional fallout of life after COVID. Recalling tough times we’ve survived before will help us maintain confidence that we can handle the transition to the “new normal.”

That’s not to say we won’t need any support along the way—emotional support will likely be more necessary than ever. But we tend to be stronger than we give ourselves credit for, and asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

By Amy Morin, LCSW, Editor-in-Chief
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.