No New Normal During the Pandemic
Throughout the pandemic, we have heard people talk about our “new normal.” And while it’s important to understand the challenges that COVID-19 presents and to adapt our lives to stay safe, it’s also important to acknowledge that almost nothing about the last 8 months has been normal. Nor is it permanent, even if it has started to feel that way.
COVID-19 threatens the physical health of those who are infected, but it is also creating mental health challenges for all of us, which are just as real. People are also being challenged like never before due to isolation and increased stress caused by concerns about their financial stability and whether they are going to keep their jobs. For many of us, uncertainty, fear and worry are no longer passing thoughts, but instead a constant undercurrent to our lives.
During late June, 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental distress or substance abuse, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The number of individuals reporting anxiety disorders is three times higher than surveys conducted during the same period one year ago, and four times higher for those reporting symptoms of depression. Approximately one in 10 of those surveyed said that they started or increased substance use because of COVID-19.
You may be experiencing a wide range of feelings and even a fatigue to quarantine and ever-changing Public Health restrictions. It may feel like the pandemic will go on forever, but it won’t. This is a temporary phase of adapting and finding creative ways to cope.
“40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental distress or substance abuse.”
Normal Reactions To An Abnormal Situation
You’re in a situation you’ve never been in before. Whatever you’re feeling, know that it’s normal. It can help to recognize exactly what that feeling is—anger, sadness, loneliness, fear, etc. While the range of feelings is as varied as we are, there are three common feeling states:
The quarantine has left many of us feeling exhausted or weary, even if our activity level has dropped. Fatigue is our mind’s way of telling us that we are overwhelmed with the current situation and that we need to slow down and pay attention.
Our mind is constantly calibrating and processing new information and it is easy to feel out of control. We become worried about things we know and worry more about all we don’t know during the pandemic. Anxiety can come in waves that can have peaks or flare-ups or you may feel constantly anxious.
Feeling down or blue is also a normal response to the pandemic. We are experiencing different kinds of losses, such as, less in-person contact, loss of our regular routines, perhaps job loss or the loss of a loved one. Allow yourself to feel and grieve these losses.
Internet searches for mental health issues in New York during the pandemic were higher than expected based on historical Google Trends search data. Searches for anxiety significantly increased following March 22, 2020 lockdown and remained significantly higher than expected for 3 consecutive weeks, during which searches were on average 18% greater than expected. Searches for panic attack soared during the first week of the lockdown, increasing 56%. During the entire lockdown, searches for insomnia were 21% higher than expected.
Source: Stijelja et al. JAMA Internal Medicine (October 5, 2020)
“Searches for panic attack soared during the first week of the lockdown, increasing 56%. During the entire lockdown, searches for insomnia were 21% higher than expected.”
Finding Balance During Turbulent Times
Achieving a sense of well-being—the state of being comfortable, healthy, happy or content—will likely take conscious effort during these unfamiliar times. Well-being usually requires balance in all or most of these key elements: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and relationship.
Take time to maintain the basics such as:
Regular movement or exercise
Allow yourself to have feelings and don’t judge yourself
Share your feelings with a loved one or a friend
Find creative ways to express them through art, writing, singing or dancing
Humans are social beings and need community. What can you do to maintain and keep your relationships fresh?
Find new, safe ways to stay connected
Surprise someone with a card or a letter
Watch a movie, documentary or sports with friends or family and share experiences
Cook or order a special meal to share within your safe circle
Avoid self-criticism and practice supportive thoughts
Recognize when you may be catastrophizing or finding the worst-case scenario
Learn and practice mindfulness techniques that build awareness and helps create healthier habits of the mind, like meditation, yoga, deep breathing, walks in nature
Spirit is the part of you that experiences joy and hope; it recognizes we are part of something bigger, whether it is nature or a community.
Find what feeds your spirit
Look for inspiration through the arts, nature, meditation/yoga or religious practice
As human beings, we are creative and resilient. Acknowledge your own resilience by thinking back to a challenging time and identifying what helped you get through it. You may not have control over the pandemic, but you do have control over how you adapt your life to this disruption. By being intentional, you can empower yourself to grow and even improve your life during this challenging time.
“You may not have control over the pandemic, but you do have control over how you adapt your life to this disruption.”
Never Hesitate to Get Additional Support
If any of these states are seriously impacting your daily tasks or self-care, please get the help you need. Also, if you are feeling despair, experiencing emotional or violent outbursts or using alcohol or drugs excessively get help immediately through your personal physician or by contacting one of the resources listed below.
For Help With...
Developing or refreshing your mindfulness practices
Obtaining resources to support children when and where they need it most
Gathering information related to psychological issues and COVID-19
Receiving confidential treatment and access to a referral Helpline
National Helpline – 1-800-662-4357
Addressing a concern that you may be abusing substances to cope with pandemic pressures
Getting the current news and articles on public health and well being
Feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of self-harm
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255
Receiving science-based articles and information on resiliency, science of happiness, mindfulness and wellbeing
How to cope with COVID-19
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cynthia Cooper, MFT
Mental Health Advisor for Private Health Management
20+ Years Serving as Senior Advisor and Program Leader for Organizations with high intenisty work environments including Kaiser Permanente, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), California Institute of Technology (CalTech) and UCLA Medical Center.