Moving to a new state in an unfamiliar town where I knew no one just two months before the COVID shutdown tossed me a curve ball I wasn’t prepared to catch. I was complacent (I never thought it would last so long), I was frightened (no one, not even the “experts” seemed to know what was happening or what to do, and I became depressed. I was so far away from anyone or anything familiar.
While I didn’t have the physical effects from catching the virus, as time progressed I became more and more isolated. My soul companion Marcello died in my arms without my being able to consult a vet, and the plans I had for starting my business in my new town evaporated with the prolongation of the shutdown. While many were dealing with the physical consequences of the pandemic, there was a hidden impact—their deteriorating emotional health.
One study about the impact of COVID on mental health published in the Lancet Medical Journal last year looked at the global prevalence of depression and anxiety disorders in 204 countries and territories in 2020 as a result of the pandemic.
Mental health dramatically declined in that year, with an estimated 53 million additional cases of major depressive disorders and 76 million additional cases of anxiety disorders seen globally. Women and younger people were found to be affected more than men and older adults.
After a few false hopes, it seems that now the world is opening up to allow a more usual way of moving among others. Now is the time to examine what we have learned from two years of fearing death, fearing touch and fearing the breath of others. We need to keep what is beneficial and let go what no longer works.
“We learned the importance of self-care. Washing your hands, not hugging every single person we meet and respecting your personal space and the space of others are things we can carry with us,” explained Sharon L. Bernier, RN, Phd, a psychotherapist. “Hopefully, we also have learned to pay attention to what’s going on with ourselves emotionally, physically and spiritually.” Bernier said that there is not a “back to normal.” “You can never go back. It’s a new normal. How we define that new normal is how we will feel in our society.” Bernier said it’s our choice to focus on the positive and reject misinformation which can lead to fear and anxiety. We’ve learned how each of us is responsible for our own health and well-being. “Fear, anxiety and judgment is not helpful in promoting the kind of attitude and community we need now.”
Dr. Kimber Martin, clinical psychologist, said she looks at normal as what feels right or correct for you personally. “The world is always changing. Ask yourself what’s comfortable with what you are doing now?”
During the shutdown I got to know myself. I took a trip inward and I realized there were many things I was holding onto that I needed to let go of. For example, Marcello’s death revealed how I never got to mourn the deaths of my family members. It also made me so appreciative that I had such a deep, loving, unconditional relationship with him for 15 years. It also gave me a new appreciation of my long-time DC friends who are truly my family. Despite a raging pandemic, many visited me and that staved off my aloneness.
Now we are ripping off our masks and welcoming others with open arms. Or are we? “No one officially said the pandemic is over,” said Martin. “Ask yourself, ‘What have I done to protect myself–vaccines, keeping personal space, meditation, exercise, learning about my immune system–what gains have I made during the pandemic that I can continue. Whatever a person may have found out about themselves that they enjoy doing during the shutdown, try not to lose it now that things are opening up.”
Martin said now she only puts her mask on in an elevator instead of everywhere she goes. She cautions that we need to be generous and kind. Some people will be comfortable wearing masks all the time. Do not judge one way or another.
Something else Martin said that can help bring our psyches back into balance is monitoring what we take in and learning how it affects us. “Find your middle ground where you can be informed but not obsessed or stressed.”
Coping With Anxiety
Most of us know anxiety and stress are not helpful emotions unless your life is in immediate danger. In fact, the more you stay in an anxious state, the more your immune system is being compromised and the more you are likely to become sick. It’s not a simple on/off switch to release stress. It is something you can practice releasing.
One way is to monitor your thoughts, Notice when your self-talk starts taking a nose dive and create a short and powerful phrase that you can easily think or say when anxiety spikes. Some are:
This is a marathon, not a sprint; Be here now; I have endured …. I can weather this storm, and my favorite is: This, too, shall pass.
Replace “but” with “and” to shift negative self-statements. For example, “But this is a terrible time” changes to “This is a terrible time, and we’ll get through it,” and, “But I’m so lonely” changes to, “I am lonely, and I’m grateful for the connections I do have.”
I like to write about 10 things every day that I’m grateful for. You can do it in the mornings or before bed. It doesn’t matter.
Country actress and singer Rita Wilson knows how to keep herself grounded and living in the present. “I’m a big believer in gratitude. Gratitude is the antidote to fear and there’s always something to be thankful for.”
For more information contact: Sharon L. Bernier RN, PhD, psychotherapist. 202-544-6465 and/or Dr, Kimberly Martin, clinical psychologist. 317-721-9067. [email protected]
Pattie Cinelli is a health and fitness professional and journalist who has been writing her column for more than 20 years. She focuses on holistic and non-mainstream ways to stay healthy, get well and connect with your true self. Please email her with questions, comments or column suggestions at: [email protected].