Much has been said about the physical effects of COVID-19.
But what about the emotional and mental effects the pandemic has caused? How does one maintain calm and even sane when limited to where they can go and with whom they can come in contact – and when that contact is no contact at all?
While there appears to be no concrete evidence that suicide rates are up or down during the pandemic – depending on which website you visit – the effect of being shut in is nonetheless strong with many. Several area therapists/counselors offered their thoughts on dealing with the subject and maintaining a positive outlook.
“For those with children, find a flexible routine and create a new norm,” said Meredith Parker of Mending Broken Pieces Counseling in DeSoto. “Change up the family routine. Have at least one meal with each other. Camp out together in the backyard.
“Get back to the basics. Play cards. Play Scrabble with make-believe words – and have meanings for them, too.”
And for single people with no one else in the home with them, those who don’t even leave the home for counseling as that is one of many things being done virtually now?
“Plant something. Take a walk, even if it’s just to the mailbox,” Parker said.
Dr. Marty Jeane of Center Street Counseling Services in Mansfield said that while keeping up with the latest news is necessary, limit yourself.
“I encourage people to put themselves on a news diet. Don’t leave news channels on all the time,” Jeane said. “All the talk of infections and deaths gets overwhelming for us. Catch the headlines and then turn it off.
“Instead, perhaps find ways to laugh. Put on a favorite funny movie or a favorite TV show that makes you laugh. This helps us feel more positive.”
Jeff Gallup of Mansfield Counseling added that when watching the news, don’t let the negative numbers overwhelm you.
“Look at how many people have recovered. We get stuck on how many died, but we’ve had many more recover,” Gallup said. “Look at the news once a day. It’s not going to change a lot until we get a cure.”
Gallup said numerous patients have come to him with economic stress during this time. He reminds them there are safety nets and to take advantage of them.
“I try to remind them this isn’t the end of society. It’s not the end of the world,” he said. “It sucks. It hurts right now, but take a slightly longer view. Society will recover.”
Loss of control
Parker said the biggest complaint she hears is people feeling as though they have no control.
“Just being anxious of the unknown can be stressful,” she said. “Focus on what you can control, even if it’s just one thing.”
Doing something for others can also be a positive motivator during these times, all agreed. Take the time to send an email or make a phone call to someone who might be lonely. Mail an actual letter or a card to remind them you are thinking of them.
“With Zoom you can connect with friends, and that’s important. There are a lot of happy hours on social media,” Parker said.
All agreed as well that while social media can be an outlet, in this age it is wise to limit the amount of time spent on places such as Facebook and Twitter.
“It’s like news. Don’t consume Facebook all day,” Gallup said. “It also depends on the social activity. We tell people to navigate around what parts really bother you. If you see parts you’re not OK with, get off.
“But any kind of interaction you can have with someone that is positive is great for you and them.”
Jeane said a key to staying positive is staying in the present. Don’t worry about the past, which has already happened, or the future, which hasn’t happened and may not happen. Focus on what can be done right now.
“There is so much uncertainty now, it helps to focus on what you can deal with in this very moment. There are always a mountain of projects we have intended to do if we had the time. Now is the time,” Jeane said.
“In addition, find a way to express gratitude for whatever is working. From running water to relative amounts of health, gratitude for even the basics helps lift our mood.”
And, perhaps above all, be kind to each other and understand this challenge has everyone under its umbrella.
“My neighbors and neighborhood seem to be coming alive with more people walking their dogs or just getting out for some air,” Jeane said. “Everyone seems to be trying to be friendlier to each other, even when they don’t know each other. This is helping.”