By Christina Raccuia, MA. ED, LMSW
During the three months of dealing with the coronavirus we have had a daily dose of fear, uncertainty, grief, and death—compounded by physical distancing/isolation and economic devastation. These conditions can trigger myriad emotions and it is understandable that most of us are feeling either stressed, anxious, sad and or angry. For many, this is an unprecedented situation—to deal with these uncomfortable and unfamiliar emotions. However, if they’re not dealt with or processed, they can potentially generate even greater depression, anxiety, trauma, and substance abuse, and even give rise to suicidal thoughts.
Negative emotions are part of being a human being, and it’s for our own good if we accept instead of refuse them and force ourselves to be content at all times. Try to give yourself permission to feel all those negative emotions right now, but do it with self-compassion and mercy. This pandemic situation is a marathon not a sprint, so try to accept all the uncomfortable feelings that go along with the uncertainty; and instead of feeling frustration facing uncertainty, try to hold on to hope.
Helpful coping mechanisms can be exercise, social support, mindfulness/meditation and engaging in relaxing and yummy activities such as yoga, taking a walk, or a long bath. All these can help regulate your emotions; however, if you have already tried those resources and still feel at a loss, or an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and helplessness, it may be time to try therapy and or medication to help you cope.
When to ask for help? You should consider professional help if you are feeling anxious, tense, or angry most of the time; if you’re unable to relax or take your mind off your worries and concerns; if you feel that you are spiraling and unable to stop your mind from feeding your worries and anxiety; if you’re experiencing panic attacks; if you’re having difficulty sleeping, concentrating, interacting with others, or even getting things done. If you can’t enjoy what you used to enjoy and are feeling depressed and tired most of the time, that could be a sign of clinical depression. Other signs include a change in sleeping and eating patterns; frequent crying; feelings of hopelessness, guilt and shame; difficulty making decisions and focusing; self- harming or suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Depressed people often experience difficulty accomplishing their work and socializing with others. Given the social distancing, this might contribute to avoiding virtual interactions as well.
How can therapy or medication help? Therapy offers a chance to speak freely and confidentially to a professional about what you are dealing with, the emotions connected to it, and what you would like to get help for. Good therapists establish a safe, compassionate, collaborative, and authentic relationship with clients, and make them feel heard and understood. They also help clients step back and figure out exactly why they are struggling and why their life is not working as well as it could be. Based on how you understand your particular problem(s), it’s possible to learn to think, feel, and act differently, leading to a resolution of your psychological symptoms and improvement in your personal and professional life. However, this process takes time, as changing patterns that took a lifetime to establish will require motivation, dedication, honesty, and hard work in and out of therapy sessions.
Psychiatric medication can also be helpful with or without therapy.
How can I see a therapist during the pandemic? Most therapists have transitioned to teletherapy due to the coronavirus lockdown. To ensure its success, you need to have a private space and a decent internet connection. Personally, I have found that video-enabled teletherapy is as effective as in-person therapy, and that the therapeutic relationship and satisfaction with therapy do not suffer. It is important, however, to distinguish between teletherapy conducted in a live 45-50 minute session with a therapist and the many mental health apps and “on-line therapy” applications that have popped up in the past few years. These apps typically do not provide traditional therapy with a licensed therapist. Additionally, if you would like to try medications for your psychological problems you can have an appointment with a psychiatrist who also conducts telephone or video appointments during the coronavirus crisis.
Don’t let a lack of resources hold you back from seeking help if you don’t have insurance or much money. There are several options for low-coast or no-cost treatment, such as:
- Open Path Collective, a national nonprofit network of therapists who provide sessions at a very reduced rate.
- Project Parachute, which uses telehealth to match pro bono therapists with frontline health care workers affected with COVID-19.
- Give an Hour, which serves military families and victims of natural or man-made traumas.
- NYS COVID-19 Emotional Support Helpline, which is only for residents of New York State. You can make a free phone appointment at 844-863-9314.
Be safe and be well.