Hitting the wall: A COVID-19 checkpoint

Earlier this fall, as we passed the six-month mark of the COVID-19 crisis, a Twitter thread began making the rounds. Shared via email and reposted on Instagram, the subject clearly hit home with many: the idea of a “six-month wall,” or the point about six months into a sustained crisis where the desire for relief becomes particularly intense.

“We have all adjusted to this ‘new normal,’ but might now feel like we’re running out of steam,” tweeted Professor Aisha Ahmad of the University of Toronto, who goes on to describe the lack of motivation, decline in creativity, and unhappiness that people experience during an extended crisis. Ahmad describes previous experiences with the six-month inflection point and how she’s navigated through it. “In my experience, this six-month wall both arrives and dissipates like clockwork…In the meantime, I try to support my mental and emotional health.”

Many of us will need support to get over the six-month wall, especially at work. Research conducted by LinkedIn’s Glint platform in August 2020 showed that burnout signs have risen 33% this year, with more respondents than ever reporting fatigue, feelings of being overwhelmed, and other potential signs of burnout.

But as we’ve discussed in previous posts, employers do have the ability to help employees alleviate burnout risk or other mental health challenges, even amid the pandemic. Data from the Glint survey shows that companies that have embraced employee-oriented traits – such as encouraging work-life balance and fostering a strong company culture – see lower rates of burnout risk.

This is a particularly critical time to check in with employees. Not only are we collectively dealing with the six-month wall, but JAMA reports that evidence suggests a second wave of COVID-related disruption is building: rising rates of mental health and substance abuse disorders. A June 2020 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey found that nearly 41% of US adults reported “at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition,” including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and substance abuse, at rates three to four times that of the year before.

As employers look for ways to continue supporting workers, it’s important to be aware that the nature of our current global crisis will continue to evolve. Whether it’s the ongoing experience of acclimating and adapting to new circumstances, hitting a wall, or learning new coping mechanisms, it’s inevitable that leaders and employees alike will need access to tools that help measure and monitor emotional health.