When ‘temporary’ becomes the ‘new normal’

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted nearly every aspect of our lives.  As we transition to re-openings and the fifth month of this crisis, mental health is something that needs to be a big part of that conversation.  “It’s absolutely normal and expected for people to feel stressed and anxious right now” says Beth Pink BSc Psych MA Practicum student working in our Professional Counselling program. “Don’t panic.  Remember nothing is permanent as the whole world is in a state of change”.  As has been stated, this experience is a first for more than one generation of people, and that is difficult for many people who have grown up in a world where many things were ‘certain’.  For some people, it has worsened existing mental health struggles, for others it’s their first experience with anxiety. 

The prolonged period of isolation that people are experiencing is also difficult for many people.  Seniors and others living in long-term care or group living situations have had almost all contact with loved ones and much of the outside world reduced or eliminated.  Seniors, families with children who have been cut-off from social interaction with other kids, and those experiencing worsened anxiety, depression or other mental health challenges as a result of isolation are particularly vulnerable right now.  For these groups, Beth says to try and remember that the state of isolation is not set in stone.  This like all things related to the pandemic is temporary. 

While difficult for nearly everyone, for parents this extended period of isolation/uncertainty can be particularly overwhelming. ‘How do I work from home with my kids at home? I feel like I’m losing my mind’, is a common statement heard in counselling sessions.  “Now is the time to seek support, to lean on those in your support networks and seek professional help for mental health needs” Beth says of people who are feeling overwhelmed.  “Don’t wait to reach out, talk to people you know in similar situations and look for the commonalities”.  For many people, hearing that others are experiencing the same struggle helps to recognize that those feelings of anxiety and stress are ‘normal’ right now, and might bring some relief. 

For parents, trying to navigate the return to work with childcare and children’s mental health needs can be difficult.  Beth encourages parents to consider risks versus benefits. If parents are concerned about sending their children to daycares, are there alternatives to group childcare?  Could a family member help? What about a babysitter?  These are the kinds of conversations that clients will talk with a counsellor about.  Beth explains that her role as a counsellor is not to give advice, but to be someone non-judgmental to bounce ideas off of and to explore options.  Many of these types of decisions can be extremely stressful for people, making them feel like the weight of the world is on their shoulders.  A counsellor can help ease that process, bringing objectivity, compassion and empathy to the conversation.   

“Try to have compassion and empathy for others.  We tend to make assumptions about peoples’ realities, and often those assumptions are wrong.  A person may choose to wear a mask in public, may see someone else without one and make assumptions about their motives.  A mask, while it may help stop the spread of the virus, can also be difficult for someone with asthma or claustrophobia to wear.  Someone who has experienced certain traumas may be unable to withstand the sensation of having their mouth and nose covered by something as seemingly innocuous as a facemask.”

For the here and now, there are things people can do outside of counselling to cope.  “Practice self-care on a regular basis.  Find that thing that keeps you grounded; a walk outside, soothing music etc.  It’s so easy to become overwhelmed during all of this, and those moments of feeling overwhelmed can happen multiple times in a day.  Take some deep breaths and do the next ‘right thing’ that works for you.”  Beth suggests.  The emphasis shouldn’t be on doing things perfectly, things are changing every day.  We need to take things one step at a time.  For work tasks, break them into smaller, more manageable chunks especially when working with multiple distractions and interruptions.  It could be something as simple as finishing one email.  Practice self-care as often as you can over the course of the day and take breaks.  Mental health is incredibly important right now.  For those who are high-achievers/have high standards, accept that simply finishing a task is enough right now. Slow down and temper expectations.  Good enough is great enough.  We all need to have grace and compassion for ourselves. 

For those who are working – what does your employer expect you to get done in a day? Have you had a conversation about expectations?  If you haven’t, can you talk to them?  This is a time to be genuine in your interactions with your friends, your family and your kids.  Come together and keep it real.  Kids and pets are going to need things at inopportune times. They’ll continue to pop into web calls and this will be the reality for some time.  Share your struggles with those you are comfortable with.  Know that you aren’t alone, you are human and it will help to talk about it.

Right now, Beth suggests figuring out what works for you and your family.  What are your priorities in your unique situation?  This is scary for adults; it can be very scary for kids.  It’s easy to get caught up in the bad.  When you find yourself starting down that path of how bad things are and can get, remember that things are constantly changing.  Ask yourself what you can control.  What are your priorities? For you? For your family?

Simplify your day as much as possible, practice self-compassion and self-care and use kindness and empathy when dealing with others.  If you would like to talk to a counsellor, please contact our Professional Counselling team at 705-742-4258.