We have all been profoundly affected by the pandemic. It has forced us all to make drastic changes to our routines and abandon familiar comforts. On top of the forced change, there have been so many new things to contend with, like separation from our loved ones for protracted periods of time, job loss, bereavement, illness, and unfortunately so much more. For a lot of people the stress of the pandemic was the tipping point of an already precarious psychological state, the silence and lack of social interaction forcing us to face the demons that we avoided with the help of weekend brunches, parties, and movie dates.
If you have been struggling with anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issues over the last year, know that you are not alone. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, four in 10 adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder since the pandemic, a drastic increase from one in 10 in 2019. Factors such as university closures, loss of income, economic downturn, and general anxiety contribute to those numbers, spanning age and racial demographics. Stress can have an adverse effect on our general health, affecting appetite, preexisting health conditions, sleep quality, and even manifesting as physical pain and an increased susceptibility to substance addiction.
University closures, loss of income, and general anxiety contribute to four in 10 adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder since the pandemic.
To get some insight into the issues most commonly experienced by members of the general public, I reached out to Dr. Chioma Anah, founder, CEO & executive clinical director at PerceptA Therapeutic & Training Center. Here’s her advice for the five most common pandemic worries she counsels people for these days.
1. Fear of Loved Ones Becoming Ill
COVID-19 has ravaged the population in the last 12 months, stealing away countless friends and family members from so many. Whether you have suffered losses in your circle, there is a constant fear that any phone call could be news about one of ours being ill with the coronavirus. This is especially tough when distance is involved, or if the people we care about are more susceptible to infection because of preexisting conditions. “Everyone that I have spoken to knows at least one person who has died from this disease,” says Dr. Anah. “People are thinking more about death, loss, and mortality.”
Dr. Anah’s advice: If you’re experiencing the loss of a loved one, are unable to cope, and if negative feelings persist, seek out a professional therapist or counselor.
2. Worry About the Unknown
Right from the beginning, we’ve been unprepared for the events that unfolded. For a very long time, there was no reprieve in sight, just fervent hope that one of the coming days would be the one to provide an answer. Access to a constant stream of dispiriting news didn’t help, and many couldn’t look away, feeding into fatalistic thinking and catastrophizing. Dr. Anah wants you to know that your fears and anxieties are valid and understandable, because we’re living in a bizarre reality, after all. “We can think about the uncertainty of the virus all day long, or we can choose to feel our fears, but then try to live life in the moment,” she says.
Dr. Anah’s advice: Read that book that’s been on your list, watch movies, clean out that cluttered closet, express yourself with some art, reach out to friends and loved ones, and seek out therapy if you need to. Don’t let anxiety consume your life.
3. Feelings of Helplessness
Pre-pandemic, most people were used to exerting some level of control over their lives, but all of that went out the window in the spring of 2020. Suddenly there was no guarantee of an income, access to food, good health, etc. So many of my conversations with friends and family were spent speculating about potential end dates for the pandemic, not because we had any certainty, but because living through the pandemic in quarterly increments was a lot more comforting than an indefinite end. Dr. Anah’s expert opinion is that we have to keep hope alive and believe that there is an end in sight. Yes, there is a new normal (e.g., more handwashing, mask-wearing, and social distancing), but focusing on the negative alone is bad for our mental health.
Dr. Anah’s advice: The vaccine rollout is a light at the end of the tunnel. Protect your emotional health.
4. Losing Social Contact With Loved Ones
Not everyone has the privilege of isolating with their loved ones, and many are still waiting to be vaccinated before they can safely travel to see friends and family. Thankfully, modern technology has been there to fill some of the gaps in our communication abilities, lending us the ability to at least look in on loved ones over audio or video when in-person check-ins are not a possibility.
Dr. Anah’s advice: If you’re feeling cut off from people you care about, take advantage of one of the many tools at your disposal.
5. Vaccine Mistrust
When news about the COVID-19 vaccines were released, many felt apprehension about their trustworthiness, not only because of potential side effects but because the usual timeline for the production of safe, effective vaccines is a lot longer than it had taken for the COVID-19 vaccines. But it’s important to keep in mind the mortality rate for the coronavirus. Taking a chance and hoping to beat the odds of infection has far too great a consequence for us and the people around us.
In addition, contrary to public conjecture, the COVID-19 vaccine has been in production for much longer than a year. The speed with which they were produced is thanks to research about coronaviruses that dates back to the 1930s. And the collaborative effort of researchers and scientists around the world also contributed to a vaccine in record time. According to top experts, the current vaccines are safe, effective, and will help stem the tide of infection.
Dr. Anah’s advice: “At least with the vaccine one has a layer of protection for themselves and the people around them. The more people who take the vaccine, the more things will begin to improve, and we can all start getting back to our lives.”
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will unfortunately linger, even after most of the public has received vaccinations. There has been far too much of a disruption to life beyond the threat of the virus, and it will take quite some time before there’s any semblance of normalcy. The truth is, things will probably never be the same as they were before before everything kicked off. Basically, some of the things we worry about may be resolved, but there might be new ones to replace them. If now or in the future you find yourself struggling, seek the help you need. Dr. Anah’s advice: “Please seek the assistance of a therapist or counselor who can assist you with navigating through your feelings in a safe and effective way.”