As the world has completely changed in a few short months it is a reminder of our vulnerability to health, societal and economic challenges. Many of my clients are now reporting increased symptoms or regression. As hardships and adjustments are unfolding, the triggers which impact anxiety, depression, grief, to name a few are so prevalent, and society is facing a mental health crisis. Being a therapist during the Coronavirus Pandemic will be something I remember as a “before and after” moment in my career and I am adapting quickly to the challenge to continue treating clients effectively.
Adapting to abrupt change can be quite challenging. Sleep and mood changes, compulsive behaviors, irritability, despair, hopelessness, anger, and aggression among others have increased. At every age, the shelter in place orders, isolation, health, and economic uncertainty has impacted us all. Everyone is emotionally at-risk to varying degrees, lets help each other keep our spirits up during these trying times.
Many clients ask me about what coping skills to use during a pandemic. The regular answer I give is simple, increase the use of existing coping skills and add more to your list. If your anxiety for example makes you feel on edge, irritable, hypervigilant, avoidant etc. it’s likely the added uncertainty which fuels your intrusive thoughts and physical symptoms has created havoc on your wellbeing. If going for a walk, taking a relaxing bath, or a breathing exercise, helped before, it is probably not enough now. As stress has increased exponentially, we must increase our coping skills as well. Try walking more frequently, add a new type of exercise, connect with a friend, try to sleep an extra hour per night, listen to soothing background music, watch comedies on TV, learn something new such as a recipe or craft. These are some of the simplest ways to increase the level or positive engagement our brain needs to offset the stress we are under. I challenge you to read, call an old friend, do 10 sit-ups, stretch your body, do a breathing exercise, even actually laugh outload instead of simply typing LOL on your texts. Stick to a few news outlets which you deem reliable and decrease the use of incendiary social media posts which may trigger you. Spend time in nature, find green and blue spaces, they are linked to cognitive benefits and improvement in mood, mental health, and emotional well-being. 1
Mental health needs are increasing in priority, and I believe we will adapt to the challenge ahead, to a new way of doing things, and find more ways to connect. We need each other, we are not meant to be alone, and this deflating spring will become a collective memory. Let’s be intentional on what we are feeding our brain, turn off the news, you can catch up literally in minutes on a news app instead of watching hours of polarized commentary which leaves you feeling despair and hopelessness. Change your expectations of self and others, children and adults react differently to stress, give grace instead of criticism. Give understanding instead of judgment, there is a great sense of grief around us especially children and teens who lost their routine, social contact, sports, extra-curricular activities, proms, banquets and even graduations.
We can support each other and together we can feel the fear, think rationally to problem-solve and grow our emotional reserves to sustain us for the long haul.
“Often we either don’t plan at all, or we get caught up in obsessive planning because we fear the future and its uncertainty.”
“We are very afraid of being powerless. But we have the power to look deeply at our fears, and then fear cannot control us.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh
1. The American Psychological Association (apa.org)
Nurtured by nature-Psychological research is advancing our understanding of how time in nature can improve our mental health and sharpen our cognition By Kirsten Weir April 1, 2020
Resources from the American Psychiatric Association