ASHLAND As the pandemic drags on, so do the frustrations.
Fortunately, many seek a little extra help from their friendly, neighborhood psychologists.
Counselor Steve Tackett at Tri-State Counseling & Psychotherapy said he has continued to see patients, as the practice is deemed an essential business, and the office is able to offer telehealth sessions as well as in-person counseling that follows safety guidelines.
How are patients dealing with the ongoing pandemic?
Everyone has been coping differently, but you are seeing an increase in stress, anxiety and depression. There has been more conflict in families, couples, and in general, it seems. With the uncertainty of the fall with school, college, possible shutdowns, growing COVID-19 cases and the unwillingness of some to take basic safety steps, you are seeing more mental health issues for sure.
This is an unprecedented time, so no one has the answers for how to cope with these things. You are seeing old pattens of behavior or old issues coming back to the forefront in many due to this uncertainty and stress. I have seen an uptick in student athletes in the office who are stressed about missing their sport season and others being concerned about being able to see their friends. We work with parents who don't know how they will balance working and school this fall. They are struggling to decide if they are going to send their kids back to school or choose the virtual option.
There are no correct answers to any of these things unfortunately. We each have to find our own way and this is difficult for everyone involved.
Have you had an increase in new patients as a result of the pandemic?
Yes, we have been more busy over the past few months than we have during this time since I have been in practice (13 years). We are bringing on a new therapist in a couple of weeks to help get clients in sooner and are constantly reworking our schedules to accommodate as many as well can and making referrals elsewhere when needed. Most like that they can still come see us safely in person, but there is still the option for telehealth as well.
This certainly seems abnormal, not seeing our friends and families and not getting out, especially in the summer. Does this current lifestyle go against everything humans are meant to do?
We are social creatures. Even those of us who may be introverted still require some activity or at least the option to have it. Vacations have been canceled, sporting seasons have been shortened or cancelled, and there have been significant limits put on what we can do due to the pandemic and this forces change on us and takes away a lot of our coping strategies. For someone coping with depression, this has taken away a lot of strategies used to combat it. For someone with anxiety, the uncertainty has fueled this even more.
As a society we don't always have the best emotional intelligence, so when we experience these emotions, or our loved ones do, we don't know how to handle them. Holding them in only makes matters worse, but unless we were taught how to recognize and manage our emotions growing up, this tends to be what we do. Thankfully, we can learn these skills and often just talking about them can be cathartic.
At the same time, some have been able to use this time to slow down and focus on their family and making life more simple. I have had just as many people talk about how they have been able to connect with their inner introvert and have been OK. I saw a meme this week that said the stress in the pandemic has brought out in all of us what was already there.
We had a short break in June/July when everyone ventured out more, some pretty much getting back to normal. Did that help or hurt from a psychological standpoint?
This is a mixed bag I believe. My initial reaction to the question was that it might have hurt us. We got a taste of that freedom back and then to have it taken or threatened to be taken makes matters worse. Having hope and being able to look forward to things is essential for us to thrive and function. Again, the uncertainty, lack of unity, etc. have added to our stress. The lack of a national strategy and constant misleading or incorrect information makes matters worse for us.
If you refer to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, you will see that for humans to thrive, we first meet our physiological needs such as food/water/warmth/rest to be met, and then after those our safety needs must be met. If these are not met, we cannot have healthy relationships or thrive as a person. The uncertainty and lack of direction threatens the safety needs thus making it almost impossible for our relationships to not be impacted and for us to reach our potential. When fear, stress and uncertainty guide us, you can see why we will struggle.
What kinds of advice are you giving people who are having a hard time coping with this length of time dealing with the virus?
This is a constant battle for all of us. The first thing I tell people is to learn to recognize how they are feeling and acknowledge it. Learn to talk about it. The more we can make things simple and to set priorities the better. I teach mindfulness skills to help people be more present and not caught up in the past and the “what ifs” of the future. Grounding skills can be so helpful in helping us not lose contact with he present moment, like an anchor on a ship during a storm.
I also believe our faith can help keep us in uncertain times. The people we surround ourselves with is very important, too. We have to make sure our circle is healthy. I know I have said it many times, but we must learn to limit our exposure to social media and media outlets that seems to provide misinformation or fan our fears. Facts over fear and opinion. This can be difficult though with so much unknown and having info change as we gather more knowledge.
So in short, get adequate sleep, a good diet, consistent physical activity. Try to find as much normalcy as possible in life. Be very aware of your emotions and embrace them. Make time to engage in things that you enjoy. Music, pets, reading, friends, etc. Use this time to find something new to engage in but also don't be afraid to be still. Spend time daily in stillness, prayer, meditation. Vent your feelings to family and friends. Use technology to stay connected.
And help others. Be more empathetic. Use this time to be more united and less divisive.
What is a sign we can look for (with ourselves and with others we do have contact with) that indicates we're having trouble with our mental health during this pandemic?
Listen to your body. When we hold emotions in, our body will let us know. Headaches, stomach issues, poor sleep, etc. Are you going off on little things, on the edge, more grouchy and short with others? Know the people in your circle who need more contact with others and pay attention if you see them withdrawing. How are you eating? Are you keeping up with things you normally do? How are you living? Are you staying true to your values?
We know ourselves well and sometimes it is just being aware when something is off and acknowledging this in ourselves. And don't be afraid to ask how others are doing and to share your own feelings as well. We are all on the struggle bus at times; either as the driver or a passenger.
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