It’s almost been a year since the pandemic upended daily life as we knew it. I remember how strange it was to wear a mask for the first time at the grocery store, standing in a line while attendants sanitized carts. Also haunting were the empty shelves in the cleaning products aisle and the rotating shortages of items I’d always taken for granted, like bread yeast and fresh oranges. And who could forget The Great Toilet Paper Shortage? The half-covered faces of shoppers around me reflected my own inner anxieties: creased foreheads, eyes tightened with worry, blinking rapidly, as though we’d all collectively had the wind knocked out of us and were still dazed, still trying to make sense of what was happening.

Going through an event like COVID-19 is both a personal and a communal trauma that many of us will be processing for years to come. Even before the pandemic, 1 in 4 American adults  struggled with a mental health disorder, and the number is climbing. Between April and December of 2020, the number of adults who reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety and/or depression at least once a week rose by almost 40%. With the acknowledgement of what a difficult time it has been – for you, for me, and for the world – comes the realization that it’s okay to not be okay. Recognizing – and then asking – for support when you’re struggling is a tremendous act of courage, especially when you’re emotionally and psychologically drained.

Although so many struggle with mental health, the stigma around it is still a major barrier to those who would benefit from treatment.  The READ Center understands the shame, frustration, and low self-esteem associated with a stigmatized condition. Similarly to mental health, less than half of those who struggle with literacy ask for help. While 30% of those with depression seek treatment, only 10% of those with low-level literacy find assistance. Due to fear of being outed, or not wanting to be labeled negatively, many will cope by “masking” – an instinctual act of self-preservation. They become so adept at pretending everything’s fine that no one around them has any idea there’s something amiss.

But no one has to suffer in silence. There is help available, both for mental health and for literacy. And here are some tips for all of us as we work through hard times:*

  1. Limit media consumption to reduce anxiety. It’s true; science says doom scrolling increases stress levels in the body. Refrain from sharing articles with alarmist news headlines.
  2. Give and offer encouraging support to others via video, phone, and text. We are social creatures who are happier when we feel connected to others.
  3. Find ways of expressing compassion and patience. This includes being kind to yourself. We’re all experiencing difficulties in some form or another.
  4. Practice healthy routines. Our brains love routine. When certain parts of the day are predicable, like going to bed at the same time each night or always having your morning coffee at 9AM, it allows the nervous system to turn off “high alert” mode and relax.
  5. Eat well. Good food = good mood.
  6. Work well from home. If you are working from home, set aside a space that is just for work. Set clear boundaries between work time and off time.
  7. Seek out blue skies and sunshine – as much as you can get. Our minds and bodies crave scenic vistas, greenery and fresh air. Even a short walk outside can do wonders to improve your mood and general outlook.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline1-800-273-8255 is open 27/7.