A thousand puzzle pieces are strewn across a table — where to begin?
I always start by assembling the border and the easier, more obvious parts of the image. As a picture starts to form, I move on to more difficult sections, depending on what’s coming together. Admittedly, I tend to get distracted in this phase of puzzling, bouncing from an area over here when I stumble upon a piece that fits over there.
The subtler, more obscure pieces? I avoid those until they’re absolutely necessary to finish.
As my family and I worked on a challenging puzzle recently, I found myself reflecting on this process — and noticing parallels with how I deal with certain aspects of life.
Movement and fitness? Nutrition? Sleep? As with the border and easier portions of a puzzle, I’ve been prioritizing these things consistently for long enough that I take care of them straightaway most days.
Stress management, social connections, supplementation — those are the areas where I get distracted. I’ll focus on them for a while, taper off and shift my attention to something else, then circle back again. Over any given period, this cycle repeats itself in various aspects of my well-being.
The area that I consistently put off addressing, often until it’s absolutely necessary? Mental health. Not because it’s not important — it’s essential — but because it’s the one that’s visible to me and me alone. I set it aside while I address the other things that I perceive as being easier to deal with. And if I’m being honest, I’ve been avoiding acknowledging feelings of anxiety and possibly even depression for a while now.
I realized, with many other parts of the picture securely in place, it’s time to pick up that more obscure piece and — with support, patience, and self-compassion — give it the attention it deserves.”
If these last two years have taught us anything, it’s that what’s unseen and bubbling under the surface can have an oversize impact on our lives. Unaddressed, our mental-health challenges can prevent us not only from functioning well in the day to day but also from following our passions, making meaningful connections, and wholly experiencing all that’s available to us in this “one wild and precious life,” as poet Mary Oliver so beautifully described the human experience.
That’s why we’ve devoted this entire issue of Experience Life to mental health: Because as we mark the second anniversary of the pandemic, we know that so many people are struggling with their mental well-being. In December 2020, research by the U.S. Census Bureau found that 42.4 percent of Americans reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders — up from 10.8 percent in 2019, largely as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Although that number began to decline in early 2021, likely because of the availability of vaccinations and other signs of hope, it has remained steady at around 30 percent since late April (as of December 2021). That’s nearly one in three of us who say we’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, two of the most common mental-health challenges. And that’s a big deal: Some have described this as a public-health emergency in its own right.
As I recently reviewed the articles in this edition, I found myself reckoning with my own mental-health issues. I realized, with many other parts of the picture securely in place, it’s time to pick up that more obscure piece and — with support, patience, and self-compassion — give it the attention it deserves.
If you’re struggling with your mental health, know you’re not alone. We can help each other put together this part of our puzzle in due time. I hope the information and insights throughout this issue inspire you to focus on it, too.
To get started, I invite you to see the following articles from the March 2022 issue of Experience Life:
- Nicole Phelps has emerged as an influential mental-health advocate through lessons learned while supporting her husband, Olympian Michael Phelps, through troubled times. Learn more at “In Her Own Lane.”
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is a trauma treatment that often produces results when nothing else will. “All Eyes on EMDR” explores how this emerging therapy works.
- Learn how exercise can help build a body and mind to roll with life’s punches at “Resilience, Rediscovered.”
- Discover how restorative yoga can help you find a renewed sense of calm — on and off the mat — at “Peaceful Practice.”