Mental health professionals (including Upper Valley counselors) are witnessing a rise in calls from Americans who are experiencing symptoms of stress. These symptoms include changes in sleep patterns, changes in mood, feelings of loneliness and depression. The patients often feel that their stress is related to the effects of the quarantine or shelter in place orders. They are right about that, but there are other causes as well. Let’s look at the big picture first and then change the focus to the day-to-day picture.
The big picture is that the disease is affecting all of humanity, it can be fatal and there is no known cure. The uncertainty that surrounds these three facts is very unnerving. That uncertainty is, in itself, quite stressful.
Focusing on the big picture–reading every new headline about the pandemic, checking on the statistics of cases, deaths, where it is surging—may be increasing the stress. One strategy to reduce stress is rationing your exposure to the news, the same way you might try to limit your exposure to radioactive material. Try only checking the news for one hour a week. If it’s a big enough story, you’ll still hear about it on the day you check in.
Another fact of life that increases stress during the pandemic is going without the people in your life that create joy. Old friends, family members, children or grandchildren. Build contact with those life-giving individuals into your week. Try writing, sending an email, call or text. Meet on Zoom or Facetime. We have more options than we’ve ever had to reach out, but some of us have gotten out of the habit when schedules were more busy.
Get some alone time. This may sound like a contradiction to the last tactic, but while you may be missing some friends and relatives, you may also be seeing too much of those you live with. For example, some Americans say they miss the drive to and from work as much as anything that happens at their job. It is their time to be silent, to think their own thoughts without interruption and plan their next steps. Now when work is done, it’s straight into family time. No down time, no silence, no break.
Think about making new routines. Build a walk into your schedule, or a rule that no one can interrupt while your’e [fill in the blank]. Maybe it’s exercise or a bath or a chance to catch up with someone on the phone. Build something to look forward to in your schedule. Take-out dinner night, game night, drive-in movie night, whatever feels like a reward; a break from the new limitations placed on us.
Last but not least remember that you don’t have to face your new schedule and it’s stressors alone. You can talk to a professional who will listen without interrupting or judging. It’s especially important if you are facing symptoms of depression or if tensions at home are approaching a breaking point. Knowing that you have a regular time and a place where you can talk freely, and that that time and place are getting closer every day can help enormously. Upper Valley counselors are ready to help. Give us a call.