They are also more likely to have essential jobs that cannot be done from home and put them at higher risk of Covid-19 infection. As the US now sees infections and hospitalizations surging in new communities, the mental distress of it all will only continue.
How can we address this wave of pain and mental stress that is washing over so many of us? To be sure, we must address the immediate challenges before us by organizing an effective response to the pandemic, providing financial help for those who are struggling and offering empathetic leadership to confront the systemic racism that has so long disfigured our country.
But there is a more fundamental obstacle to our mental health and well-being that is harder to see but essential to confront. In our fast-paced, mobile, and globalized world, we have allowed one of our most treasured sources of safety, resilience, and health to weaken and fray: our relationships with one another.
On a societal level, our weakened connections can make it harder for us to have honest conversations across political and social divides, which in turn makes it tougher to come together to address daunting challenges like inequality, climate change and a global pandemic.
There is a way we can use this moment of extraordinary pain and stress to improve our mental and physical health: we must rebuild and reprioritize our relationships with one another. Doing this demands that we re-orient the cultural lenses through which we see ourselves and each other.
The values of consumer society (efficiency, wealth, professional success) and social media (sensationalism, us-vs-them rhetoric, curating one’s life to seem perfect) are not working for us. This often leaves us feeling inadequate and unworthy, which in turn makes it harder for us to be open and vulnerable with others — key ingredients to building healthy, strong relationships.
Instead, we must find ways to elevate our more enduring values — kindness, honesty, courage, self-sacrifice — and reflect these in our decisions and in the way we define success.
Do we measure the potential of our children by their test scores or whether they make others feel seen and loved? Do we measure our success by how much we have, whether that’s more status, more wealth, more likes and retweets? Or do we celebrate our efforts to build strong families and communities that work better for everyone?
During this time when so many are struggling, there are small steps we can take that can make a big difference. We can start by thinking of one person in our lives who may be frightened or lonely and making an effort to support them, whether that’s lending a listening ear or offering to bring them a home-cooked meal.
We can build uninterrupted time with loved ones into our days (even 15 minutes can make a difference). We can put away our devices and give people our full attention during conversations. We can seek out opportunities to serve those around us, recognizing that service is a powerful antidote to loneliness.
These simple actions can change our lives for the better. When this action is taken collectively, it can help build a people-centered culture.
As stressful as the pandemic has been and as many lives as the virus has devastated, it may provide us an opportunity to reassess our lived values and reprioritize our relationships with one another.
We have spoken with managers who found that seeking to understand the hardships their staff faced at home and establishing ways for employees to ask for and receive help from one another is helping build a thriving and productive workplace, challenging the notion that we’re better off when we rigidly separate our personal and work lives.
Better policies are essential to improving our mental health and well-being. But policy ultimately flows from the culture and values that shape our decisions. This is our moment to re-center our lives and our country around a simple but powerful credo: put people first. Covid-19 is our opportunity to recommit to one another, to recognize that human connection is the foundation for greater health, resilience and fulfillment.