For nearly a year, we’ve endured social isolation, family stress, and job insecurity. How can we cope?
By Barrett White
We have collectively been through a lot since March. For nearly a year now, we’ve been in varying states of lockdown, dealt with social distancing, and have probably had to turn the car around to go get the face mask we forgot at home at least a dozen times. For others, perhaps you’ve even contracted the COVID-19 virus. Maybe your symptoms were mild, or even life-threatening. Maybe you were entirely asymptomatic.
Regardless of whether or not you have contracted the virus, one thing remains certain: The focus on our mental health right now remains among the most important things we can do for ourselves while we weather this storm.
According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health at the US National Library of Medicine, there is evidence of “post-pandemic mental health challenges” ahead. “For such a large scale event like COVID-19 pandemic, the impact on mental health can be long lasting,” the study’s authors suggest. “The prevalence of common mental health disorders is expected to rise during the post-pandemic time as a result of the long term effects of the pandemic, the restrictive measures such as social distancing and quarantine and the socio-economic effects.”
“Focus on what you can control in your everyday life,” says Legacy therapist Betsy Vasquez, LPC. “It’s ok to feel anxious, scared, and uncertain. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Treat yourself with understanding and provide yourself with genuine loving care. Phone calls and Zooms with supportive friends and family can help normalize how you feel and make you feel less alone in this time of social distancing.”
The cause of these mental health issues could be any number of pandemic-related stressors: Isolation, family stress, and job insecurity, to name a few.
While these issues may develop in anyone, there are additional considerations for those who have actually contracted COVID-19. A recent study published in The Lancet suggests that nearly 20% of COVID-19 patients developed a mental health issue such as depression, anxiety, or dementia within three months of their diagnosis. The risk was doubled compared to people who did not have COVID-19.
While researchers do not yet understand exactly how COVID-19 impacts not only the body and mind, but brain function, this research helps to connect those dots. This pandemic – the virus and society as we cope with it together – may result in psychological issues from pandemic stress as well as the physical effects of the virus.
For some folks, it’s not only their own mental health that they are concerned with, but that of their children. “Understand that they are just as restless as you sometimes and may not have the tools to express themselves like we do,” Vasquez says. “Practice patience and understand that they probably feel just as cooped up as you do.”
Vasquez recommends some easy ways to temper the cabin fever: Host a movie night or a game night for the kiddo(s), or go for a drive for a change of scenery. Sit outside and let the kid(s) play in the back yard or a park. Focus on your breathing while your child(ren) get their energy out.
An unfortunate part of this pandemic has been the staggering tragic loss of life we have witnessed in less than a year. In the United States alone, we have lost 376,000 of our friends, neighbors, and family. Grappling with the reality of this loss can be heart-wrenching, especially when you’re unable to grieve with your community.
“Check out virtual support groups for grief and loss,” Vasquez suggests. The safest and easiest way to remain connected to others enduring similar loss during this time is to connect with them online. Verywell Mind compiled a list of online grief support groups for this very purpose. Of course, phone calls and Zooms with supportive family and friends remains an option. “Was your loved one a wonderful cook? Maybe you could honor them by learning a new recipe or cooking one of their favorite dishes. This is just one way to remember them.”
Vasquez continues, “Speak with your therapist or your primary care provider. Don’t suffer alone.”