This year will likely go down in history as one of the most difficult in modern times. As the global pandemic continues to take its toll on millions of people around the world, its effects on people’s mental health and well-being are becoming more evident every day. Media outlets have published countless articles about the predicted and actual mental health effects and how to manage stress and anxiety, but we are still uncertain about the long-term impacts this challenging time will have.
It may feel overwhelming, but this is not a hopeless situation. As folks have been saying all along, we are all in this together. Predicting these heightened challenges has been helpful in getting proactive information to those who suffer from them. Read on to learn how you can take care of yourself and your loved ones who are struggling.
Immediate Assistance for Those Suffering
If you need immediate help, please call 800-273-8255 or chat the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Current State of Mental Health in Information Security
The state of mental health is troubling on its own; nearly 41% of respondents to a CDC survey reported adverse mental or behavior conditions, which was “substantially higher” than the number reported in 2019. For those who already had mental health challenges, respondents reported their symptoms had worsened.
As we’ve discussed before, information security practitioners are far from exempt from mental health challenges; on the contrary, they tend to be affected at a 5x greater rate than the general public. It stands to reason that existing information security mental health problems would also be exacerbated during a time when members of the general public are suffering as well.
None of these issues are necessarily new, but they are all impacted by the effects of the pandemic.
Important note: We share this information with the intent to let you know you’re not alone and to shed some light on potential challenges you may face but not recognize. It is by no means meant to guilt or shame anyone. No one is born inherently knowing how to manage stress and anxiety; these are skills that must be learned with time, practice, and experience.
A group that was already prone to excessive isolation in the first place—working long hours, often well into the night, alone at a computer—has now largely shifted to remote work along with much of the rest of the United States (and the world). Security operations centers are not typically known for being socially outgoing parts of companies, but they are even less so as the pandemic continues to wear on. Isolation can cause increased depressive symptoms, which can cause new or aggravate existing depression.
Depression, Anxiety, and Seasonal Affective Disorder
Many infosec practitioners already suffer from depression and/or anxiety. 91% of CISOs surveyed said the levels of stress they are suffering from is moderate or high. To make matters worse, some parts of the United States have already gotten snow and ice storms.
Especially as we head into winter, the effects of depression and anxiety may worsen when combined with the effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Prioritizing self-care will be increasingly imperative for anyone facing challenges over the next few months.
The fact is many people suffering from stress and other mental health challenges often attempt to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Information security professionals are currently experiencing much greater stress than normal, and 1 in 6 CISOs now medicate or use alcohol to cope with their stress. This can also worsen the effects of mental health challenges and cause significant problems in other areas of life.
What to Do About It
Despite the unique challenges infosec professionals face, especially amidst a growing number of threats and a rapidly evolving landscape, there are steps you can take to help mitigate the negative mental health impacts an information security career during the pandemic can have.
Take a Break from the News
Information security professionals by their very nature seek and consume new information frequently. While this is often an asset in their careers, it can also become a detriment. News saturation—especially when the news is so negative and worrisome—takes a toll.
It’s important to give yourself time and space away from consuming media regularly; this allows you to mentally “reset” and return to center before consuming additional information. Try taking a walk, calling a friend, or spending some time with a good book to disengage more fully from the news.
Find a New Hobby or Group Online
Gratefully, mental health has become a focus for many people, and there are resources available that may not have been accessible a few months ago. Many formerly in-person hobby groups or support groups are now available online, which means they’re accessible to anyone with an internet connection. A sense of community and belonging can help you feel less alone and give you a break from the monotony of daily work and chores.
Research shows that aerobic exercise can help alleviate some of the effects of anxiety and depression. It can be hard to get moving – especially now when many gyms or other health clubs are inaccessible – but the good news is that even something as simple as taking a walk or doing light yoga can make a big difference. Keeping a routine or asking a friend to join you can help you stick with it.
Although many clinics are not currently offering in-person talk therapy, psychiatric clinics have quickly updated their practices to ensure they can offer their patient care, and telehealth visits are widely available. There are also relatively low-cost text therapy options available (like BetterHelp or Talkspace).
More and more people seek therapy now than ever before. Nearly 40% of respondents in a recent poll by the Mental Health Foundation received treatment from a mental health professional; think of it much like going to a primary care physician for help with a sinus infection. Therapists can help you work through feelings or troubles you may struggle to untangle on your own, and they can teach you tools for how to manage stress and anxiety to use on your own as well.
There is no shame in seeking help.
Revisit Our Earlier Suggestions
In case you missed it or it has been a while since you’re read it, please read our first post on this topic. It includes a ton of resources on what common mental health problems exist and a lot of options for what you and your loved ones can do about them. We encourage you to re-read that post with fresh eyes, in case there may be something there you missed.
This year has been challenging in many ways for many people. If you find yourself struggling and unsure of how to manage stress and anxiety, you are not alone. We hope you find hope and help in the information we’ve shared here.
Mental health is an issue we are passionate about, and we will continue talking and writing about it and supporting and promoting organizations that work to help those who suffer. Please don’t hesitate to reach out—as always, we are here.