Content warning: discussion of mental health crises
A few months ago, I was working from home at my desk when I suddenly began to feel dizzy. My view of the world spun, and I felt pins and needles in my fingers and numbness in my face.
I went to urgent care where a doctor examined my vitals. He listened to my heartbeat, checked my breathing and looked in my ears. After 15 minutes of this, he concluded that despite my fears, nothing was wrong. At least, nothing was wrong that could be physically seen.
What I was experiencing wasn’t a stroke or some kind of heart malfunction. I was having a panic attack.
This was my first time experiencing a panic attack, but it wasn’t my first time dealing with the challenges of mental illness. Early in the pandemic, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder.
And, I’m not alone. During the pandemic, 4 in 10 adults have reported symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorders, compared to just 1 in 10 in 2019. As of 2021, 6.8 million people in America have generalized anxiety disorder and 16.1 million have major depressive disorder.
Major depressive disorder is also the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for people ages 15 to 44. Symptoms can include feelings of sadness, insomnia, trouble thinking and unexplained physical problems such as backaches.
Despite their prevalence, depression and anxiety are still taboo topics—especially in the workplace. But as more and more of us face late-stage pandemic burnout, mental health is something we can no longer ignore.
Burnout can lead to lower productivity and less investment in work. Often, it means you feel exhausted, cynical and incompetent and can introduce greater mental health problems.
Whether struggling with a formal diagnosis or simply feeling emotionally exhausted, we can all benefit from open, honest conversations about mental health. Below are strategies you can use to help both yourself and those around you:
- Practice self-care. Taking regular breaks during the workday—even for just five minutes—can greatly reduce stress. This can mean going for a walk, drinking water, meditating or talking to a friend.
- Prioritize. We can’t do it all. Build a schedule that works for you, and include blocks of time to focus on what’s most important, whether that’s a lunch break with family or an undisturbed hour to finish an essential work product.
- Take mental health days. Mental health is health. Taking a sick day for a headache or a broken arm is just as important as taking a sick day because of mental illness symptoms.
- Talk it out. Open up to a friend, family member or colleague about your emotional struggles. Let others sympathize and help you.
- Open yourself to difficult discussions. You may not be used to talking about mental health. Educate yourself using resources such as the CDC’s How Right Now site, and be prepared to address your own internal stigmas.
- Check in on those around you. Make time for quick check-ins with those who matter. In the workplace, this can mean taking a moment for socialization and bonding at the beginning of a meeting.
- Be honest. Sharing your own experiences, although difficult, can make others feel more comfortable being honest with you in turn.
For a year after being diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I told no one at work about my mental health struggles. Instead of taking sick days for mental health, I often worked extra hours on evenings and weekends. It made me tired, burned out and irritable. And, it was unnecessary.
Since opening up about my experiences, I have received nothing but support. This has allowed me to take the time I need for myself, and my work has improved as a result.
With the pandemic upending all of our lives, there’s no longer room for the stigma surrounding mental health. It’s time we open up the conversation for good.
If you are or know someone who is struggling with mental health, please visit
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
TTY 1-800-799-4889 (para español llamar al 1-888-628-9454)
1-877-565-8860 (para español presiona el 2)
The Trevor Project’s TrevorLifeline