The Lingering Effects of COVID-19
By Treneé Tunick, LCSW
Our nation is well into its second year of navigating life in a pandemic and while the coronavirus has moved to the background in many people’s lives, for others it’s remained unquestionably at the forefront.
Because we are all at different places in regards to responding to the virus, it makes it difficult to assess its continuing effects in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones. Research on the actual physical effects of contracting the disease are emerging as the virus itself continues to morph and change. But make no mistake, those effects are rippling through every area of our lives and will continue to do so in the months and years to come.
In the midst of such massive amounts of human change, what should we be on the lookout for in terms of mental health with ourselves and others?
The Effects of Continued Isolation and Disruptions
While the level of nation-wide lockdowns looks different at this time in 2021 versus 2020, isolation and disruption in communities still exist. Some places do still have lockdowns in effect, but changes in health or changes in income can affect the freedom families have in pursuing “normal” activities.
With national guidelines and local restrictions still in flux, it also makes any kind of future planning or forecasting difficult to near impossible. That sense of “in limbo” can impact mental health.
All of which can result in heightened levels of:
· Sleep or mood disruptions
· Other warning signs?
If that sounds like you, know that you are not alone in feeling this way. In fact, in a March 2021 study by Pew Research, it’s reported that:
“One year into the societal convulsions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, about a fifth of U.S. adults (21%) are experiencing high levels of psychological distress, including nearly three-in-ten (28%) among those who say the outbreak has changed their lives in ‘a major way.’”
At Morning Light Christian Counseling, we have certainly seen this upward trend in people experiencing psychological distress and major change. Katie MacDougall, the owner of Morning Light Christian Counseling, observes, “We have seen a significant increase in the number of calls we’ve received for services since the beginning of the pandemic. If it seems like you’re alone in feeling isolated or upset during the pandemic. You’re not. The Enemy wants you to believe you’re alone. That is a lie.”
Using biblical principles and practical, scientific tools, each of our therapists at Morning Light Christian Counseling are skilled in helping people identify lies that could be causing psychological distress and isolation.
Lack of Balance in Daily and Weekly Routines
Perhaps your family or community has made great strides in returning to more normal levels of activity. However, that pendulum swing of schedules can also increase stress and anxiety as we all adjusted to more margin in our schedules over the past year.
Be mindful of how you ease yourself or family back into a fuller schedule, noting that our minds and bodies still need rest and margin. This is especially important as families with school-age children prepare for the unfolding of another school year.
It can be hard when there is rising pressure from our circles to recommit at pre-pandemic levels, but focus on making the right decisions for your family.
Like we mentioned earlier, because many future plans are still fluid and that “living in limbo” produces its own stress, anxiety, apathy and a host of other emotions on its own. Instead of trying to forecast out by months like you might have done in the past, focus on planning in smaller chunks like weeks or days.
Putting Pain and Grief in Perspective
Finally, we can’t neglect the fact that as a nation and as individuals, many of us are continuing to process and grieve personal losses and communal tragedies that have unfolded throughout 2020 and 2021. That process can’t be rushed, and that process is unique to each individual.
If you find that grieving impacts your ability to live your life, it may be time to visit a counselor. Grief counseling provides an opportunity for your pain to be witnessed (an important step in the healing process) and to begin to process those traumatic events within the full perspective of your life.
In his book Finding Meaning, author David Kessler shares how his own perspective of his pain evolved over the years following his son’s death (emphasis added):
“My limited acceptance was only because I saw [my son’s] body go into the ground. Otherwise, I couldn’t believe he was gone. But that early acceptance was also mixed with anger, and in my anger I thought my pain would always be that enormous. Three years later, the scene looked very different…for me it was a moment of deep acceptance.”
This perspective can be helpful as we navigate our own grieving process, to understand that while the pain and trauma may loom very large in our minds and lives right now, that is not the new permanent reality. With the right tools, you can process your grief in a healthy way to empower you to move forward when the time is right.
Treneé Tunick, one of our therapists at Morning Light Christian Counseling, is especially skilled in the area of helping people process grief. She keenly observes that healthy grief requires acknowledging emotions, especially the messy ones, and letting God heal you in the midst of those messy emotions. Anger, for example, is an emotion that Christians are often uncomfortable admitting they experience, but it is important to acknowledge that emotion and let God help you find the root of what is fueling that emotion. Then, the healing will begin.
Finally, as you continue to monitor your mental health for the lingering effects from COVID, don’t neglect another powerful tool: finding ways to help others in both big and small ways even in the midst of your own pain. In an article for Cedars Sinai, Itai Danovitch makes this observation:
“In order to maintain good mental health over the long term, people should find ways to connect with loved ones and, importantly, find ways to be of service. Having a sense of purpose is enormous. It allows people to cope with a lot of adversity.”
Those efforts can be as simple as checking on a neighbor or mailing a card to a friend to finding safe ways to volunteer for a new cause or ministry that strikes a chord with you. Involving other friends or family members in these efforts offer a double bonus of connection: helping others while serving with those who are meaningful in your life.
If you are struggling with the lingering effects of COVID-19 stress and anxiety, reach out to one of our qualified counselors today to start your counseling journey. We are here for you.