“It’s OK not to feel OK”
With the increased attention paid to stress because of the pandemic, Bacon hopes stress and psychological issues generally become destigmatized.
“It’s important to normalize stress and its negative effects,” she said. “It’s OK to be fearful and sad and frustrated about some of these experiences. But whenever emotions like anger and sadness and frustration start to have negative impacts on your life that may be the point where you might want to seek out additional care, and know that it’s OK to feel not OK in these times.
“I’ve been encouraged to see some of these conversations surrounding mental health in the sports industry recently, with people like Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles and Michael Phelps acknowledging they’re experiencing significant stress as part of their careers, and making the choice to step back for a bit. And it seems like those choices have been fairly well accepted.”
On campus and among her friends and peers, Keever noted more conversations about anxiety, stress and mental health, and the actions of premiere athletes haven’t gone unnoticed.
“I’ve seen people sharing posts congratulating these athletes on taking care of their mental health,” she said. “Society’s view of them is sometimes that since these athletes are so determined they should tough it out, but taking care of yourself isn’t selfish, and they are setting a great example, especially for the younger generation.”
The unpredictability of the current moment — beyond any more tangible factors such as health or changes in the workplace — is in itself contributing to greater stress.
“As a term it’s the new fad, but there are a lot of folks in therapy and counseling right now thinking about how are they going to deal with the new normal, and how to transition to that,” said Armitage. “Clients will say something like, ‘We used to do that in the before times. We don’t do that in current times. Maybe we can do that at a later time.’
“We’re all dealing with the situational trauma of the pandemic. We’re all dealing with isolation and depression from lockdowns and not having the freedom to do all the things that we want to do, and there’s also the grief for the loss of a former life.”
While psychologists typically focus on the individual, Bacon has found herself stepping back to look at the bigger picture and thinking about the foundations of society that can impact mental health.
“Self-care is important, but we can’t self-care our way out of some of these broader problems in society,” she said. “If you’re not able to get childcare or if you’re not able to keep your job, you’re not going to self-care your way out of those situations.
“We do what we can for the individual, but to go back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, people need to be fed and they need to be housed. So we have to be thinking about expectations at work, childcare opportunities, job training and all of these bigger societal factors that can make a significant impact.”