Some Thoughts on How to Deal with the Effects of the Coronavirus on Mental Health
While COVID-19 has had significant effects on the economy and physical health, the emotional fallout is increasingly just as severe, with the emotional and mental health consequences becoming even more evident in months to come. It’s important for individuals, families, and communities to know that they can overcome the losses and limit the emotional damage.
Wearing masks, social distancing, and spending extended time alone leads to an unnatural state of being. Humans are social animals with genetic and natural desire to connect and bond with others. Human contact or touch, including handshakes upon greeting, hugs to show compassion, and kisses as expression of love, are sometimes even more essential than words shared between neighbors, friends, colleagues, and family.
The very factors that alleviate the virus can help create and foster the symptoms of depression. Isolation is in fact a symptom of depression, as most people who are depressed isolate themselves from others as a result of their depressed state. Depression also can result from the loss of sports, personal hobbies, exercise, and other forms of leisure, along with celebrations of our achievements, such as graduations, tailgate parties, picnics, and barbecues.
Simply, Definitely Abnormal
This means that motivation for other tasks that promote our functioning and survival diminishes. Lack of motivation leads to low energy and changes in both eating and sleeping rhythms. Although activities can be conducted and implemented online, it does not promote the same social interaction and, thus, enjoyment as they once did.
Depression is the inability to feel the pleasure in events and activities that someone once enjoyed.
As the deaths from the virus increase despite community effort to control the pandemic, a sense of hopelessness and helplessness deepens. The “new normal” is a contradiction, as this state of being is simply and definitely abnormal.
Given all that, it’s important to know that it is normal to be experiencing stages of grief that are processed during a tragedy, including shock, denial, blame, anger, sadness, and acceptance. Also some people, particularly those who might be experiencing some form of post-traumatic stress disorder after other earlier events in their lives, might be experiencing nightmares, memories, or intrusive thoughts of the event and hyper-vigilance.
Different events in my life have affected my present behavior and way of life. After living through the energy crisis in the 1970s, I always turn off lights and electrical devices before leaving a room. Since the gas crisis, I always keep my gas tank at least a half full. During the recession of the ’70s when unemployment hit a record high, I learned how to better manage my money and became hyper-vigilant of eliminating debt. So coping measures can be positive as well as negative.
For those who are able to find healthy ways to cope, recovery from this crisis could make us better people and stronger communities.
For as long as it has lasted so far, and even though it is projected to last longer, it’s important to remember this is still temporary and a normal part of history. Past health crises have included smallpox, yellow fever, scarlet fever, typhoid, the Spanish flu, diphtheria, polio, and HIV.
All of these events influence the economic shifts and cycles of recession and then prosperity. We will survive as a community, nation, and human race. There may even be positive outcomes.
For example, many of us may find we will become more resourceful. People will be forced to learn how to do things differently in order to survive and find means to support themselves financially.
Our values may shift. Altruism and compassion may increasingly be recognized and rewarded. Those who provide food, transport supplies, donate money for research, and otherwise help their neighbors and community despite their own hardship and pain will be recognized as heroes.
Before the pandemic, many were preoccupied with work demands, schedules, and making more money and success. Now that many of us are forced to be homebound, we may have time to turn toward our personal needs and being with family.
We can become mindful of our immediate environment as we enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of nature while taking walks.
The crisis may help us reassess our priorities and redefine ourselves.
Coping skills will be strengthened, as we try to reduce our preoccupation with illness and keep our minds busy by balancing our time with work, rest, exercise, family, and personal hobbies. Those who are unemployed might opt to devise goals that will promote careers including online education.
Other options might include learning a new language or craft, completing home improvement projects, and spending time with our children or family.
Our goal should be to not focus on worst-case scenarios for the future, but rather focus on what we can do in the present.
There are simple pleasures to be enjoyed. Smelling a rose. Enjoying the sounds of birds chirping or water rippling along the rocks of a stream. Watching a sunrise and then the sunset. Listening to the laughter of our children and learning to enjoy the companionship of our families.
Angela Beckerman has been a practicing licensed master’s-level counselor of mental health and addiction specialist for more than 35 years. She currently provides audiovisual telemedicine session and is a private psychotherapist at the Shoreline Center for Wholistic Health in Guilford. For more information, visit angelabeckermantherapy.com or call 860-227-7326.