At this point, it is likely an understatement to say that we are in unsettling, trying, and stressful times. With what felt like very little warning, our global economy has ground to a halt, disrupting almost every aspect of daily life. School, work, social gatherings, and regularly scheduled appointments have been altered, modified, or canceled all together. The anxiety about our physical health and well-being is combined with the anxiety about our ability to continue to pay bills, contribute to savings, and maintain a quality of life. It is definitely not an understatement to suggest that there will be mental health costs to our current global crisis.
One major consequence is the increase in isolation. We knew, prior to the pandemic, that isolation, loneliness, and perceived isolation is a correlate to increased physical health and mental health complaints. Older adults have historically been in the greatest risk category for isolation experiences, and that continues to be true today. Yet the increase in isolation caused by social distancing and related circumstances from our efforts to mitigate disease transmission means that any age is at risk to be impacted by isolation. The risks associated with loneliness and isolation are similar to risks associated with smoking, or obesity. The physical and mental health cost adds to an already overburdened healthcare system.
Day to day living has been drastically impacted, which is also creating a strain on our collective mental health. Trips to the grocery store include an increased awareness of the risks associated, and how that risk may impact our loved ones, as well. Errands are no longer mindless and carefree, and each venture outside of our own homes requires a risk analysis, as well as concerted efforts to sanitize anything we bring back with us. While work and school have opportunities to be stressors, they are also an important part of our daily routine, and offer social contact, productivity, and engagement that it just isn’t possible to replace with remote and distance learning and work. Our productivity when attempting to work from home is impacted by reduced concentration and increased distractions – and this is true for kids and adults! For many adults, an increase in caregiving strains are seen, with an increase in responsibilities for children’s education, as well as the possibility of being the designated caretaker for elderly relatives and neighbors.
Even if someone you care about becomes sick, the chances of being able to support and offer care while they are being tended to are majorly reduced at this time, increasing the trauma of the illness. For those on the front lines fighting this illness, there are added worries about making loved ones sick, becoming sick themselves, and the physical effects of extended high stress within the body.
Children, who don’t have the emotional vocabulary or life experience to fully articulate how they are doing, may have an increase in physical health symptoms or behavioral disruption. Sleep may be impacted, as well as a child’s sense of playfulness or engagement. Odd symptoms that don’t seem connected, like leg pain or canker sores, may also be a sign that your child is experiencing stress.
Even after this is over, and we can begin to return to our lives, the trauma from this event will still linger. We know that to healthily get through this, as best we can, we need to set boundaries about the frequency with which we check the news, as well as the sources we are getting information from. For some people, increasing structure will help create the necessary supports to cope through the pandemic. For others, eliminating the structures and expectations, and acknowledging the very strain that daily living is causing is what is needed – validation, and the awareness that this won’t last forever.
We know too that mental health care is important. Telehealth plays an important role in short term and long term mental wellness, as a substitute for in-person therapy for the time being, as well as an extended option for those who live in rural areas, or time logistics prevent in-person sessions. Beginning therapy, or maintaining the therapy relationship that you currently have won’t fix the stress and strain that we are in. But it is that extra support and boost for the time being, to help get us through, and intact on the other side. For more information on our individual, family, and group supports via telehealth, contact us. We can help!