Since the pandemic, our mental health has deteriorated at a global level. Some studies estimate an increase in depression by 53 million extra cases and a staggering 76 million extra cases of anxiety. In the United States alone, research shows that 4 in 10 adults suffer from anxiety or depression, whereas before the pandemic it was just 1 in 10.
As a psychotherapist, this troubles me, but we don’t just get to blame the new kid on the block. Even before the pandemic, we saw a decline in our mental health due to the rapid growth in technology (including smartphones). Our need for certainty and the quick fix of an instant answer has taken us further from the wisdom and natural rhythms that we can find within. At a greater rate, we are recycling half-baked ideas that take us further and further from a felt sense of truth.
In my new book Beyond Your Confines, I argue that the coincidence of these two major trends (the pandemic and the growth in technology) has trapped us within an internal (mental) prison of our own creation. Evidence of this is all around, with greater emotion dysregulation and an uptick of unhelpful thought patterns (for example, the over-simplification of black and white thinking that polarizes views).
For survivors of trauma, life during (and since) the pandemic has been particularly challenging, creating an even greater swing on the dialectic of trauma that is a feeling of too much at one moment, and then feeling nothing (or shutdown) at the next moment. In Beyond Your Confines, I pay particular attention to the prevalence of trauma, and how we can learn how to regulate our emotions again.
One of the hardest groups hit by the pandemic has been parents of school-aged (and younger) children. In recent studies, 27% of parents reported that their own mental health has deteriorated, and 14% reported worsening behavioral health for their children. For those parents who are also survivors of trauma, the growth in technology and the pandemic has created unique challenges. As a result, I dedicate a whole chapter to parenting through, and after, a pandemic.
It is my hope that Beyond Your Confines can help you to understand how you trap yourself within a mental prison, and if you can understand what confines you, this might help you to find the key to free your mind. We can learn a great deal from history, and so I examine other pandemics, and how we have responded to these. For example, in 1980 smallpox was eradicated because of the cooperation and collaboration between countries. In Beyond Your Confines, I explain that we need each other to free our minds and achieve a healthy state of mind. We can co-regulate each other, a concept introduced by Dr Stephen Porges when he explained Polyvagal Theory. As you will find out in Beyond Your Confines, Polyvagal Theory is an important component to mental health.
We can also learn from the 1918 and 2020 pandemics, which showed us that confinement helped to slow the spread of influenza (in 1918) and COVID-19 (in 2020). In Beyond Your Confines, I explain that confinement can sometimes help with your mental health, especially if you translate that to a period of rest or disengagement, whether that is from work, social media, or even the demands of your loved ones. In my new book, I examine the concept of burnout, something that has posed a greater risk since the pandemic and a growth in technology has blurred so many boundaries. Did we see a rebellion against this blurring of boundaries during the Great Resignation of 2021? Was this an example of people reaching beyond their confines, freeing their minds, and reaching for a more authentic way to live? Perhaps. I will leave that to you to decide once you have read the book.
The process of writing Beyond Your Confines has underscored my belief that to tackle any mental health issue, it is impossible to confine one’s focus to the individual. We are all interconnected, and so we are not just looking at an internal prison of distorted thought patterns or emotion dysregulation, we need to understand the societal distortions that confine us; distortions such as structural inequality, societal privilege, and discrimination. Mental health practitioners have a duty to examine these societal influences, and I hope that I have, at least in part, addressed this duty by publishing my new book.
Beyond Your Confines is available from all good book retailers from 1 October 2022.
Psychotherapist and Author
The Lancet - https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)02143-7/fulltext
Kaiser Family Foundation - https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/
“Brain Health Consequences of Digital Technology Use,” Gary W. Small, Jooyeon Lee, Aaron Kaufman, Jason Jalil, Prabha Siddarth, et al https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7366948/
The Polyvagal Theory, Stephen W. Porges
Well-being of parents and children during the pandemic - https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/146/4/e2020016824/79686/Well-being-of-Parents-and-Children-During-the?autologincheck=redirected?nfToken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000
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