By Joshua Magallanes MA LMHC NCC

Playing in the 2020 Sin City Classic Tournament seemed like any tournament until three-to-four weeks later when we began to hear about the first COVID-19 infections. We never dreamed what would come from this event – the world, and life for many of us changed in the blink of an eye.

As a nation we never knew what would erupt during this pandemic. From civil unrest to all the repressed feelings, emotions and thoughts from our past, and perhaps past decades that were going to resurface. I was not only navigating the landscape of the world personally but also as a mental health and behavioral emotional wellbeing practitioner.

The last two years have helped individuals find new ways to live. Some have become very isolated while others have thrived. So how can some thrive when others are just trying to survive? As a nation, we’ve had to learn new ways of being and how to live differently. For some, it was focusing on creating positive change; for others it was a time of despair. Many of us lost loved ones and had to process grief and navigate these pesky emotions we didn’t know what to do with.

So what do we do with emotions that cause us to feel hollow, depressed, anxious, etc.?

As a mental health therapist seeking ways to help individuals process these feelings, it’s sometimes difficult. And it’s difficult for clients to understand where all this hidden baggage is coming from. More importantly, “how is it that I have been hiding these emotions and feelings trapped inside me for so long?” The reality is that we sometimes interchangeably use mental health for what’s really emotional health, and vice versa.

Mental Health involves processing all the information we encounter whereas Emotional Health is more about the feelings provoked by the data that’s processed. For example, the Summer and Winter Olympians’ amount of stress and performance pressure was added to the stresses of the media, their coaching and prior trauma. So we saw athletes suffer, pull out of events and not compete to their highest ability. If we support those in need, the feedback loop can be interrupted and negative self-talk can be reframed.

We’re forced to look at the daily challenges we face and that sometimes can be overwhelming for many. Mental health professionals saw an influx of 50-60 percent more clients from March 2020 through February 2022: that rate continues to climb. While this is really positive, we need more practitioners to help.

More of us need to determine exactly where the pandemic has left us. Not just this post-pandemic time because these feelings and emotions have been here before this began. Instead, we have to talk about the difficult and uncomfortable topics in the room, like the isolation, the grief and the cultural mandate to focus on doing instead of being. We need to talk about leaving out whole groups and communities of people from jobs, policies and conversations that involve and impact us all. WE have to listen when our communities say they are hurting. Finally, we need to listen to ourselves when we feel like our buckets are empty.

So why the continued stigma when it comes to mental health and emotional health? The two are intertwined, helping us navigate a world that can sometimes feel like the dripping faucet that just won’t stop dripping. We can no longer treat them separately but instead with duality.

So as I’m playing softball this summer, I’m reminding those around me to notice what is really going on for them. I’m also taking stock, acknowledging what I can control and what is “an uncontrollable”.