Tips for Navigating Stress and Change in the Pandemic
As we approach the two year anniversary of the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is only natural that we all reflect back on the last, unquestionably unique, two years. Our lives have been changed exponentially since the start of the pandemic. Some people’s lives have been impacted through daily changes, such as wearing a mask in public, avoiding large gatherings, or ordering more food from Door Dash. Others have found their lives impacted in deeper ways, such as being let go from their job, switching to virtual work or school, and going weeks, months, or years without seeing their loved ones. On top of these changes, some individuals have found themselves relying more on alcohol and drugs, having great difficulty accessing mental health services, dealing with heightened health-related anxiety, losing loved ones, and even being on mandated lockdowns. Each country, state, and county may have different regulations, yet each person’s life has been impacted in more ways than one.
The big question many are asking is when will this end? Is this our new lifestyle, wearing masks to the grocery store and seeing increases in cases during the winter season? Will there come a time when we do not have to live as cautiously as we have been taught to live over the last couple of years? Will COVID-19 vaccines become as common to us as the annual flu shot? These are all questions that no one necessarily has answers to–the future is uncertain at this time. So, we must figure out how we are going to acclimate ourselves to this new lifestyle. For some people that means simply being able to leave the house again, for others it may mean making changes to the way we conduct business and the different rhythms of life.
As I reflect on the various ways the pandemic has influenced us in negative ways, please know that you aren’t alone if you resonate with any of them. There is help and support available. In addition to highlighting how we’ve been impacted in this time, I have also outlined some tips for working through them.
Areas for Concern
While there are countless ways that the pandemic has impacted people, these are particular areas that seem to have become problematic across the board. Through talking about the problems in each area, we can also identify ways to acclimate ourselves to these changes. Some areas of concern are: changes in jobs, distance from loved ones, lack of access to public events, heightened substance use, eating disorders, access to mental health, health-related anxiety, and losing loved ones.
Changes in Jobs
Individuals have had changes in their jobs such as transitioning to entirely remote working at home, losing their job entirely, small businesses being shut down, and contractual positions making cuts to employees’ hours. These changes could mean income loss for many households, as well as adapting to changes in jobs, such as going from a lifestyle where going to work daily was part of a routine, to not leaving the house for days, weeks, or months on end. Many people who have been working remotely from home since the start of the pandemic have mentioned increased levels of depression, weight gain, and difficulties amongst romantic and family relationships.
Oftentimes I tell my clients, especially if they are without a job or have flexible hours at their job, to try and remiain in a routine. Due to our natural circadian rhythms, we are meant to have certain sleep and wake times. However, many people have found themselves staying up later and later, and sleeping in as late as desired. The problem with this is it can lead to lower productivity, which can oftentimes make people feel a lack of purpose and, in turn, increase depressive symptoms.
In addition to having a sleep/wake routine in place, it can be beneficial to set ‘work’ hours, including lunch and breaks, in order to feel a better sense of normalcy. It can be easy to fall into a routine of staying up late, sleeping in, and just doing things for pleasure, rather than taking care of necessary tasks. In addition to keeping a routine, it can help to set ‘mini goals’. This could be goals about how many jobs to apply to each day, small tasks to complete at home each day, etc.
Distance from Loved Ones
The beginning of the pandemic brought about many lockdowns. At first we were told to stay home unless absolutely necessary. Some countries mandated stay at home orders that involved citizens staying inside of their homes at all times, while others encouraged citizens to social distance from anyone outside of their home and work from home if possible. For many people, this involved not seeing their loved ones for long periods of time. For myself, I went around four months without seeing my parents and siblings at one point, due to working in the local county jail and being exposed to COVID patients daily. Some people have had to continue their precautions long beyond government regulations being lifted, due to health concerns, themselves being elderly, or being around those who are elderly or immunocompromised.
There are many ways that we can keep in touch with loved ones and COVID-19 has given us individuals creative ways to keep in touch. A few ways to do this is to utilize social media by keeping each other updated through Facebook, Twitter, Email, etc. Another way, that is a bit more personal, is to video chat with others, whether it be through zoom, Facetime, or any other video chat-compatible application. For individuals who are interested in video games, family and friends have found comfort in playing online games together, as a way to do something with one another, without breaking social distancing guidelines. As for special occasions, such as birthdays or anniversaries, loved ones have been arranging ‘drive by’s’ in order to let their loved ones know they are thinking of them, even though they can not be together.
Lack of Access to Public Events or Services
Concerts, gyms, food establishments, parties, weddings, and school have been shut down a number of times. While these events still happen sporadically, it seems that whenever there is an outbreak of COVID patients, cancellations happen. Brides have had to reschedule their weddings multiple times, waiters and waitresses have had to file for unemployment due to their restaurants being shut down, venues have had to refund for concerts and parties due to artists deciding to be cautious and cancel their tours, and kids have had to acclimate to school through the computer.
Personally, I have been incredibly impressed with those around me, as I have seen such flexibility and positive thinking coming from friends and family. Friends of mine have switched their baby showers and bridal showers to ‘zoom’ events. Family members have converted their wedding into a backyard wedding, in order to stick to COVID-19 guidelines, as well as to have better ability for all to social distance. For little ones, it has been hard missing out on seeing their friends at school, so many parents have been setting up zoom play dates or even social distanced play dates with friends. For those who love going to the gym, many have found themselves getting creative with their fitness, such as following influencers’ workout routines, getting new equipment from the store or second hand, in order to create an at home gym, or joining different online exercise programs.
Heightened Substance Use
Jokes were made in the beginning of the pandemic about people being able to just drink regularly at home, due to many businesses being shut down and many finding themselves locked down with little or nothing to do with their time. At the grocery store you could find people stocking up on liquor, beer, and wine. Door Dash offered deals on delivery from liquor stores, and restaurants started to offer ‘to-go’ alcoholic beverages. For some people this quickly turned into an unhealthy coping mechanism, which led to excessive drinking, and for some drinking alcohol nearly every day. For those who have a history of substance abuse, many have found themselves relapsing due to less responsibilities, less distractions, and inability to cope with anxiety and depressive symptoms.
This can be especially hard with a lack of resources available due to the pandemic. For many people, it has meant doing Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings over the computer, doing one on one substance abuse therapy, limiting or cutting off alcohol into the home. Of course, Alcohol is not the only substance that individuals have been leaning on. For those who are leaning on more serious substances, such as illegal drugs or even abusing prescription medication, this has led to a harder time getting into treatment facilities due to strict COVID-19 guidelines. Some substance abuse programs even shut down for a period of time. For those who are noticing an increase in substance use from loved ones, it would be beneficial to have a conversation with loved ones and inquire about if there is an underlying reason behind this.
Online-therapy.com does offer therapy to those who have been experiencing heightened substance abuse. Our trained therapists are available to connect with you whenever, wherever.
While being at home consistently has become a new normal, some have found themselves developing unhealthy relationships with food. This can surface in a variety of ways, such as through binge eating due to boredom or even as a coping mechanism. Another way it can surface is becoming obsessive about exercising and dieting. While diet and exercise is absolutely important for a healthy lifestyle, it is important to check in with oneself and make sure it is not to the point of excess.
On the other side of the spectrum, binge eating can quickly become problematic. Binge eating is defined as often eating excessive amounts of food in one sitting to the point of it feeling out of one’s own control. So what does this mean? While we all have moments where we eat too much at once and even may have occasional times where the intake feels to the extent of binge eating. However, for most people, this is not a frequent event and therefore is not to the point of meeting criteria of an eating disorder. For someone who is finding themselves binge eating often, there may be different ways of deterring this behavior. If ever concerned about yourself or others experiencing eating disorders, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor to rule out any medical reasons for the excessive desire to eat. It is also a good idea to talk to a therapist about it, as eating disorders oftentimes have underlying reasons for the behavior.
Access to Mental Health
Many people have found themselves experiencing anxiety, depression, and substance abuse problems, oftentimes even including people who have never experienced symptoms of mental illness before. The mental health field has seen a dramatic increase in individuals seeking help for mental illness, many of whom have never sought out mental health treatment previously. There are so many people who have struggled mentally during the pandemic and it has led to difficulties in interpersonal relationships, as well as a diminished wellbeing for those suffering. While there have been a wealth of businesses having to place people on waitlists, individuals seeking out help found themselves turned away by one place after the other. While businesses are attempting to find more staff and oftentimes even asking therapists to add on more appointment time slots, there are simply not enough mental health resources to accommodate the large abundance of individuals seeking help.
This is where services, such as this, come into play. For instance, virtual therapy has provided a way for clients to attend therapy, regardless of lockdown status, need to quarantine, and fear of being around others due to health concerns. Additionally, it has helped therapists who are unable to leave their home to still work, allowing for more resources out there for people. This type of therapy is still a new era for the mental health field, but is one that is coming with many benefits for clients. This allows clients to still be seen, even if the client or therapist is feeling unwell. It also helps those who have chaotic schedules to fit in therapy without having to worry about commute times.
In addition, people who are feeling nervous about going into public due to COVID-19, or people who are immunocompromised and unable to leave their home, are able to still receive therapeutic services. This is especially important as this is a whole population of people who were previously unable to receive therapy, who are now able to get a therapist from home. For those who are unable or unwilling to participate in online therapy programs, there are also things in place to help in emergency situations, such as emergency hospitalization programs, texting services for those experiencing thoughts of self harm, and suicide prevention lines to call when having suicidal ideations. These services are not long-term solutions, but are there for emergency situations, and oftentimes are even able to connect clients with local mental health resources.
Illness Anxiety Disorder is a term used in the Mental Health community, outlined in the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This term refers to preoccupation with acquiring or having a serious illness. Many know this term as it’s previously known condition from the DSM-IV, hypochondriasis. Many people have found newly developed illness anxiety since the beginning of the pandemic, while those previously experiencing symptoms of this diagnosis found their symptoms worsening significantly. While everyone absolutely should be taking precautions to spread, not only COVID-related germs, but preventing the spread of any transferrable illnesses, some people are struggling to process what is happening and become fixated on it. Individuals who are experiencing illness anxiety may become obsessive about learning about the illness, become terrified of going anywhere out in public, especially without wearing a mask, and theorize what will happen to them if they get sick with this condition.
Wearing a mask and being cautious are great things to do and absolutely will help to stop the spread of germs, however, continuing on with life is important as well. There are, as always, exceptions to the rule. For instance, if one has an autoimmune disease and their doctor is encouraging them to adjust their life to stay home as much as possible, this is important to listen to. However, for those who are otherwise healthy, following the guidelines that your country’s medical field is recommending is likely the way to stay healthy, while also continuing on with life as much as possible. For those who are autoimmune compromised and are unable to go back to their pre-covid-19 day-to-day life, it is important to find ways to continue on in a new normal, such as by following some of the suggestions already discussed.
Losing Loved Ones
This has, for most, been the hardest part of COVID-19. Hearing the numbers of people who have passed during this pandemic has been frightening. It has been terrifying when a loved one gets sick with COVID-19, to the point that people are finding themselves afraid to admit to having it to others, due to an appearance of stigma with the illness. Many people would be horrified if a loved one came down sick with COVID-19 and they were a part of any of the high-risk groups.
For a long while, people had been unable to have funerals and oftentimes individuals passed away in the funeral alone, as they were not allowed to have any visitors with them. These restrictions may even still be in place in some areas depending upon location. Not only have people lost loved ones with COVID in this way, but many of these things even apply to those who were ill but other ailments. Someone who died of cancer, for instance, may still have passed away in her hospital room alone, due to restrictions at hospitals. This individual’s family also may not have been able to have a funeral due to restrictions, or otherwise may have only been able to have a gathering for immediate family.
There is nothing that can be done about how hard it is when a loved one passes away. However, there are ways to cope with it, such as having your own kind of celebration for the loved one, talking to others around you about how you are doing with this loss, educating yourself on the facts so there are no misunderstandings, and looking back on the positive memories.
You are NOT Alone
This is a terrible illness that has swept across the entire earth and has given the whole world a completely different reality. We are acclimating as much as possible but for those who are experiencing any of the problems listed above, I hope that you are able to find some comfort in knowing you are absolutely not alone in this and there are people to talk to and places to go for help.
If you would like to gain valuable support and resources as you continue to navigate this time, Online-Therapy.com is here to help. Our licensed therapists and online therapy toolbox can provide you with a safe space to process and work through current problems.
Click here to get connected with a therapist now!
Holmes, Lindsay. (2021, March 9). The Most Common Ways The COVID-19 Pandemic Has Affected Mental Health. Huffpost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/common-ways-covid-pandemic-affected-mental-health_l_6036a9c5c5b660b95cb016c6
Javed, Bilal; Sarwer, Abdullah; Soto, Erik; Mashwani, Zia-ur-Rehman. (2020, June 22). The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic’s impact on mental health. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7361582/
Panchal, Nirmita; Kamal, Rabah; Cox, Cynthia. (2021, February 10). The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use. KFF. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/#:~:text=The%20KFF%20Health%20Tracking%20Poll,eating%2C%20increases%20in%20alcohol%20consumption
Shillington, Patty. (2021, March 19). Pandemic Stress Has Varying Impacts on Couples’ Relationships. Univeristy of Massachusetts Amherst. https://www.umass.edu/newsoffice/article/pandemic-stress-has-varying-impacts
Warren, Jacob; Smalley, K. Bryant. (2020, December 2). The Long-Term Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health. The Commonwealth Fund. https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2020/long-term-impact-covid-19-mental-health