The wintertime brings with it a bunch of mental health challenges related to lower light levels (there is a tonne of research out there) and lower levels of physical activity (reducing the feel-good hormones). This year’s on-again-off-again covid public health protocols (which are on again) are in place – the risk of mental health illness in any of us is much higher. The other pandemic of mental health illness that has reached an all-time high is something that has been overshadowed by the physical effects of COVID-19 and the effect of its variants. In terms of mental health, this country has seen a dramatic increase in outbreaks. We have seen a 25% increase in reported incidents of mental health and a 50% increase in opioid-related deaths.
— HIV Community Link (@HIVCommLink) September 18, 2017
So shit, this isn’t good.
If we are taking the appropriate and responsible measures to protect ourselves against covid – are we taking the same steps to address mental health risks?
I overheard my son chatting with his friends (while on one of their breaks in virtual school) about how great recesses were in 2019. It's sad hearing an 11 year old be wistful for the past and not excited for the future. Fuck you Covid. #fuckcovid pic.twitter.com/Z1v5f7SBwn
— Alex Bishop (@alexbishopcan) January 14, 2022
For me – I could be doing much more.
So with a new year, I’m going to make a commitment publicly to change this. Let’s look at a list of things that the evidence said all will protect me (and you too) against mental health risks.
- Ask for help
I’m shitty at asking for help. Call it how I was built, raised, or some combination of it – I help others more than even myself. I even have a knee-jerk reaction when we’re all told when we fly “to put on our masks before helping our children”. This is all despite the fact that I’ve been sober for a decade, have successfully advocated for millions of dollars in mental health and addictions funding, have written a workbook on mental health in the workplace, and advised a number of national and international organizations involved in health care. So, you’d think if anyone would ask for help (especially in terms of mental health) – it would be me. Nope. I’ll bet a lot of people reading this can relate.
This article is part of my commitment to asking for help.
- Keep active
I struggle with this in the winter. I’ll admit it. One thing I did was after much careful consideration, I got a dog. He forces me to get outside (like many of us), I work from home, and without a gym to go to, it’s much more difficult. Now, a couple of times a day – my 120lb drooly friend (he’s a very large ridgeback-mastiff rescue) insists on (and deserves physical exercise). He has helped me to get outside which also gives me some Vitamin D.
- Drink sensibly
I’m a ten-year sober recovered alcoholic so my concept of sensible drinking is quite irrational and unattainable. My decision was and is to not drink at all. For many of my friends, they can temper their drinking by alternating alcohol and water, drinking only on certain days or events. For them, drinking doesn’t have any negative impact on their life.
Perhaps check in with yourself and others to see if you need some modification to your drinking.
Thank you @davidmansilla for giving me an opportunity to share about my struggles with addiction and what a decade sober looks like.
— Alex Bishop (@alexbishopcan) November 23, 2021
- Eat well
Along with drinking, I have noticed that I can use food to regulate my emotions. Eating my feelings probably isn’t a healthy decision for an extended period of time. So this year, as I am dumping the dad bod and getting my pre covid abs back – I will be seeing professional help. For those that do not want to do this, there are fantastic apps and programs available online.
- Take a break
Part of some lies I’ve told myself is that my sense of worth is directly related to the amount I work. Maybe, just maybe my value (and yours for that matter) is not determined by anything except – you. Happiness is an inside job and doesn’t require anything from anyone else. So maybe I can find ways of taking breaks.
- Talk about your feelings
F-f-f-f-feelings???? I don’t have these unless they involve my kids, sports, or sex – right??!!! Seriously, I spent the first 30 years of my life burying my feelings through a tonne of self-destructive behaviors. Many of them (like workaholism and making a tonne of money to deal with my insecurities) are praised by society. So because I do not have a significant other to chat about daily stuff, I decided to check in with a therapist. There are therapy services available free through public health, through many doctors’ offices, and through a number of organizations here.
Was speaking to a doctor friend of mine who works with at risk folks when we asked each other:
How are you?
We both lied & said "fine".
Then we laughed. No, shit ain't fine. People are struggling. Hopefully we can emerge from covid with some real honesty. #Covid_19 #mentalhealth
— Alex Bishop (@alexbishopcan) December 17, 2021
- Keep in touch
I love being social. Despite writing for a few national publications and ghostwriting for business leaders and politicians having tens of thousands of followers on social media (mostly on LinkedIn and Instagram), I have struggled to stay in touch with my friends during covid.
Perhaps starting or joining a WhatsApp, iMessage group with your friends where you check-in? My parents, sisters, brothers-in-law, and kids all have weekly zoom meetings to check in and see how we’re all doing.
My commitment this year is to reach out and ask for help from my friends and work colleagues.
- Do something you’re good at
My first coach, a guy named Brian Tracy said that “happiness is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal”. Doing things that we are good at will give us the sense of accomplishment and mastery that is so important during tough times. One of the reasons I write and do on-air work is simply for my own mental health. Finding a positive outlet that I’m good at has been key for me in maintaining my sobriety.
What are you good at? What can you do to take immediate action to do some of those things?
- Care for Others
This is something that has been a literal lifesaver for me. I’ve experienced some serious losses in my life (many of them after I got sober). What has been a consistent thing for me is my volunteering. I have volunteered in addiction treatment centers providing peer support to men with addiction problems like I had. I have offered my professional services pro-bono to organizations that have needed funding, advocacy, and lobbying. Helping others releases those feel-good hormones of dopamine and serotonin and not just in you and the recipient of your service. An interesting side effect of doing good is that an observer of kindness also feels good.
So in this dark time of the year and world – let’s find ways to connect and help our mental health. In doing so, many more will benefit.
— Alex Bishop (@alexbishopcan) January 17, 2022
Alex Bishop advises companies and leaders on matters involving media, capital, and government. He lives in Hamilton with his two two-legged children and his four-legged one too.