How’s your mental health? If that’s not a query you hear very often, I’m not surprised. It’s common to ask others about their families, about their jobs, and about their health in general. We might even say, “You doin’ okay these days?” But even friends don’t usually ask, “How is your mental health?”
So, I’m asking. Are you feeling sadder than usual, less able to get things done, less hopeful about the future? Do you wake up in the middle of the night or have trouble falling asleep in the first place? Are you more irritable than usual, or more anxious about things?
According to the polls and studies that fill my email box, a “yes” answer to those questions places you in the bell curve these days — a curve that seems to be expanding as this interminable year marches on. Soon there will be no range at all; just an acknowledgment that nearly everyone is struggling with some aspect of their mental health as they cope with daily life during a pandemic.
That may not be such a bad thing. Of course, more people having more mental health challenges is not good. But if the condition of facing challenges somehow “normalizes” so that we can discuss the struggles more naturally with each other, that could be one of the surprise gifts COVID-19 gives us.
As a career counselor, I watch for signals that someone may be struggling. Difficulty making decisions, overwhelming fear of making a change or taking risks, hesitation over relatively simple tasks — these are just a few of the observable signs that a job search or career transition is being subverted by something deeper.
When that happens — and it’s happening a lot more than it ever used to — I ask about it: “This seems like it’s been a hard task for you, but I know you’ve handled much more complex processes in your work life. What do you think is going on?”
Sometimes just asking and listening is enough to break up the log jam. Even so, I’ll usually ask the follow-up question: “Are you working with a counselor or therapist to help sort things out during this transition?”
I’m not a therapist, so it’s important not to mess around with things I’m not trained to handle. But that doesn’t stop me from showing my concern, or from letting someone know that I’m seeing plenty of others who are also struggling. Whatever the problem may be, it helps when you know you’re not the only one experiencing it.
So, I’m still asking: How’s your mental health these days? If it’s not super, and you have a job search or career transition on your plate, I have some tips to share.
1. Take baby steps. However much you “should” be able to accomplish in a day of job search is not relevant at this point. If you’re not completing tasks, break them into smaller and smaller parts until you get to the size you can handle.
2. Revise the plan. If your transition process is stuck, ask yourself: Does this have to happen right now? If you’re out of work…