Mental Health in the Time of Pandemic

woman with stressed look on her face

Hello Coronavirus, is it NOT nice to meet you.

Oh boy, it’s been intense lately. It feels like all of a sudden we’re living in a different world and that the ground underneath our feet is shifting faster than we can regain balance.  You don’t even have to have an underlying mental illness to feel ALL the feelings.

It’s like that book Love in the Time of Cholera takes on a new dimension. How do you begin to make sense of mental health in the time of pandemic?

Feeling all the feelings

Is there a feeling you can’t relate with right now? Isn’t just about everyone cycling through feeling annoyed, bored, lonely, energetic, panicked, irritated, disbelief, anxious, relieved, sad, reassured, afraid… so many feelings bouncing around.

Haven’t most of us thought things like:

  • Why are those people hoarding supplies? Save some for the rest of us.
  • Yes! I don’t have to go into the office!
  • Uh oh. What am I going to do with these kids all day?
  • What if my company closes because they don’t have enough business?
  • Working from home is great, I can finally keep up with my laundry.
  • Yikes, the stock market is going down so fast.
  • I was not made to stay at home all day.
  • Will my favorite local businesses make it through this?
  • I love my family, but I need some alone time.
  • I’ve never seen the grocery store so empty — no TP, meat, or milk — this feels serious.
  • It’ll probably blow over in a couple of weeks.
  • That guy is coughing — is he going to get me sick?
  • Am I over-reacting? Am I under-reacting?
  • This is starting to feel real.

Doing what you can do

Many people have a core fear about losing control. When things feel out of control, they feel anxious. Often, they learn to control their anxiety by controlling as much as possible in their world. This can feel like a superpower, but can also get out of hand.

While being too focused over-focused on control can become a problem in itself, it can also be used to help manage situations that feel big and out of control. Simply said: Do what you can do, control what you can control, and don’t let the fear of the unknown overwhelm you. It sounds easy, doesn’t it. Unfortunately, it’s not all that simple, but that doesn’t mean we can’t at least start down that path!

With the Coronavirus specifically, we all have the opportunity to exert a little control to make things better. Have you seen the visualizations* of how diseases replicate and spread as shown by little balls bouncing around a bunch of other balls? When the ball gets the disease and bounces into another ball, it shares it, and soon all of the balls have the disease. Then, they also show you that if a good portion of the balls just stay still, the progression of the disease slows dramatically. The White House recently gave advice that synchs up with this: “Even if you are young, or otherwise healthy, you are at risk and your activities can increase the risk for others. It is critical that you do your part to slow the spread of the coronavirus.” (The President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America)

Act as if you might be carrying the virus“. — Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Use your coping skills.” — Most Therapists

Coping skills to the rescue

These days, it’s rare that a Therapist doesn’t love to recommend coping skills. There’s a reason why we talk about them all the time: they work! Using healthy coping skills can help you tolerate, minimize, and deal with stressful situations and the emotions that go along with them. Managing your stress and emotions can not only help you feel better emotionally, but physically as well.  It turns out that the body and mind are connected**, so coping in healthy ways can boost your immune system.

Some favorite coping skills to try:

  • Taking care of your body (eat well, exercise, sleep)
  • Using a weighted blanket to stay calm (and sleep well!)
  • Talking to supportive friends and family
  • Getting fresh air
  • Journaling
  • Organizing a cluttered area of your home
  • Listening to music you love
  • Watching movies
  • Reading books and magazines
  • Taking a long bath
  • Writing a letter
  • Creating something
  • Gardening
  • Learning more coping skills

Getting professional help while social distancing

Sometimes coping skills just don’t get you all the way there. This is especially true if you have an underlying mental health issue or the stress all at once has left you feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes it’s hard to vent to people who you know are stressed, too. At other times, the people you need to vent about are the very same people who are your closest loved ones who are now sharing space with you 24/7 all of a sudden. The good news is that you don’t have to figure this out alone. Your counselors who really get you and what you’re going through, not only while dealing with stress related to the pandemic, but the normal stress you were already dealing with are still here. They just may be available through a video or phone connection instead of in person.

Our practice, Empower Counseling Center, is already experienced at delivering online counseling services through video. We are already set up with all the secure and easy-to-use technology needed to offer counseling “online”. So, it was pretty simple for us to respond to the calls to stop non-essential contact. We have moved our practice online for the duration of the pandemic (when it’s safe to move out and about again in the world, we’ll be back in our wonderful offices). This means that we are able to continue seeing you and keep moving forward with your regular treatment through this crisis. As always, you can reschedule your appointments if your desired appointment times are changing.

As for the practical stuff, going online for a video session is super easy — you’ll get a link for your session in your reminders. If you are on your computer, you can just click a link, but if you’re on your phone, you’ll just need to do a quick download of the app. Your counselor can help you get situated for your first online session. We can also do phone sessions as a backup if needed.

Once you’ve got the technology piece in place, all you’ll need is a private spot. We do realize that with family togetherness 24/7, it’s harder than ever to find a moment to yourself. One thing we recommend is doing a session in your car. Some of our clients we see online already do that as their regular plan.

The good news is that you don’t have to figure this out alone. If you’re needing some extra care during this stressful time, we’d love to help you. [Getting Started]

Elaine Moss, Therapist and owner of Empower Counseling Center LLC, helps highly intelligent overachievers trade anxiety for confidence without feeling like a failure. She’s lived in the Suwanee area for 20 years and can’t wait to get back out into the world.




* For compelling visualizations about how diseases can spread through a populatoin, see Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially and how to “flatten the curve” -Harry Stevens (3/14/20). Washington Post.

** Some studies that demonstrate how negative emotions can negatively impact your immune system (a few of MANY): Brain study links negative emotions and lowered immunity; How do our emotions affect our immune response?; and Mind/Body Connection: How your Emotions Affect Your Health

4411 Suwanee Dam Road, Suite 450
Suwanee, GA 30024

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