Millennials Q&A: Managing Mental Health During A Pandemic

March 2020. It was the beginning of a “new normal” for most of America. People had to adjust to COVID-19 regulations, isolation, heightened stress, online schooling and face-to-face interactions being replaced by Zoom calls. It goes without saying that the pandemic had a tremendous effect on mental health, forcing people to learn new ways to cope. Many expected millennials – those born between 1981 and 1996 – to be able to adjust quickly with minimal hiccups. But have they? We figured we’d test that expectation close-to-home and interview some of the millennial members of GillespieHall.

JP = Jasha Price, Senior Creative Lead, 28 years old

AG = Austin Griffith, Lead Digital Strategist, 24 years old

DD = Darren DuHadaway, PR Strategist, 25 years old

PP = Philip Paverd, Research & Content Analyst, 25 years old

What impact has social distancing and isolation had on your mental health?

JP: I am an introvert, so initially nothing in my life drastically changed. I enjoyed being in my own space with little social expectations. It took until the holiday season to feel the impact of isolation because that was the time of year I was used to traveling and visiting extended family. This was not possible this year and it felt odd.

DD: The social distancing and isolation in the past 11 months has made it difficult to keep routine “appointments” to see my friends. Although we still try our best to get together via Zoom, it’s not the same. This has led to me feeling more separated from them and it gets pretty lonely.

PP: I’ve had to make more of an effort to connect with people. It’s been a bit stressful at points.

What has been your biggest challenge during the pandemic?

PP: Staying inside all the time and staying focused.

JP: It was an adjustment to have to always be cognizant of how much distance was around me when I was out in public, constantly sanitizing and remembering to wear a mask (there were a few double-back trips to the car for a forgotten mask). But mostly it’s the constant fear of catching the virus or someone close to me catching it – and not recovering.

AG: Managing the work/life balance, when “work” and “life” in my virtual office exist within five feet of each other. I had to learn to be okay with logging out of my workspace even if there was still work to be done – there always is – and not feeling guilty about it. The drive to continue to work because we are always “at work,” even if we literally at home, is exhausting. To help with this, I built a specialized office space. This allows me the separation of work and home because that space is only for work. I also built a workspace at my girlfriend’s apartment that accomplishes the same goal – a small area that is only for work activities. This separation has been crucial.

DD: My biggest challenge has been keeping any routine. It’s hard when sometimes I don’t leave my room or house for literally weeks at a time. This was a bit easier when it was nicer outside because being outdoors was more accessible.

What did you do to manage your mental health? What did and did not work?

DD: This has been a real challenge since when you’re isolated it can make mistakes feel bigger or more consequential. What’s worked is when I’m in a routine that is variable or consistent. What doesn’t work for me is trying to apply other fixes that are out there. For instance, I don’t know if I’m meditating the wrong way, but it doesn’t do anything for me and it simply seems like a waste of time. The best way for me to handle my mental health is to keep going and take smaller moments to appreciate how far I have come along the way.

PP: Exercise and taking walks. Walking every day has been a great way to get out and decompress, and I’ve been going to the gym regularly (masked and socially-distant of course).

JP: With so much time at home, I found myself picking up new hobbies. I started painting, journaling, yoga and roller skating. Yoga did not last long. One of the most helpful things that I did for myself was to follow social media pages that shared helpful advice on mental and emotional health.

How about dealing with negative news and alarming headlines?

AG: I completely tuned out the news. I do not read headlines. I do not browse news websites often. I do not watch TV news. I follow financial/market news, my crucial interests, and that is all. Anything else, if it’s important enough, I’ll hear about it somehow!

JP: I stopped watching news channels and browsing news websites. I found out about major events only if it flooded my social media timeline. I controlled the information that I consumed every day – this was my method of protecting my mental health.

PP: Distract myself (watch a show, do laundry, make food, take a walk, etc.)

DD: Although 2020 was a historic year that will always be remembered, I often ask myself if it was more newsworthy outside of the pandemic than any other year. Was it worse because it actually was or because everyone had more time to pay attention to it? Either way, I think it’s important when dealing with harder or more negative issues that we continue to pay attention to them. Though it can be draining, it’s impacting someone’s life even if it’s not ours and that’s important to not ignore these issues simply because it’s easier. I dealt with them the same way I always do – paying attention and helping where I can.

What did you learn about yourself in the process? What did you learn about your relationships/values?

JP: Not much. I’ve always been a jack-of-all-trades, constantly trying new things – even if the first time ends up being the last time. And I kept my communication with family open and constant.

AG: The energy and mindsets you surround yourself with dictate how your day will go and how you will feel. If the TV is on, constantly blaring negative news, you’re going to be subconsciously grumpy all day long. Pushing yourself to create or find positivity every day can have dramatic results in every area of your life without realizing it. Trying to look on the bright side is crucial every day. Also, going out of your way to do things you enjoy, rather than the easiest thing you don’t hate, goes a long way (i.e. – get up and go for a walk rather than sit on your phone for 10 minutes: “effort in” is rewarded with “positivity out”)!

DD: I’ve learned how much value I place in a routine that is variable – an outline of my day that can always be changed. The issue I struggle with during isolation is that sometimes I don’t do anything different over the course of a week, and that can be hard to break out of when I’m still doing everything that I have to.

PP: I didn’t know how much I need to socialize; it’s emphasized how important friends and family are.

What is one positive takeaway from the pandemic? What do you hope the next 12 months will look like?

AG: Cliché, but I think we have all learned to cherish the time we have together… because we do not know when it will be cut short – or how!

JP: One positive takeaway is the increase in overall cleanliness and sanitation. I hope people continue to nurture their physical, mental and emotional needs and protect themselves from unsafe environments and false information.

PP: I’ve seen a lot of people get around to things they normally would never have had the time/freedom to do – like gardening, fixing up a shed, and spending more time with family. I hope I see a gradual return to normalcy and more social activity over the next 12 months. Safety takes priority!

DD: I think there’s a lot of positives that can come out of this pandemic – for one, I hope everyone continues to practice safe measures when they’re sick. It feels as though the common cold and the flu are down this year because people are already wearing masks and social distancing. I hope the next 12 months will have as much of a return to normal as possible while the vaccine is administered.

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