We hoped that COVID would be under control, adults would get back to their jobs, kids would go back to school, parents could breathe a sigh of relief and return to their previous lives; things would get back to “normal”.
So how is it going? Are you wondering why you still feel so anxious and overwhelmed, stressed and exhausted? Some people can bounce back and somewhat easily take up where they left off 18 months ago. But many adults, teen-agers and children still have significant anxiety about re-engaging with the outside world. After a long period of social isolation, many may feel awkward to begin interacting again with others. There may be ongoing worries about job, housing and financial security. The future is uncertain and fear, anxiety and depression have increased significantly in adults, teen-agers and children.
We are now in the aftermath of a seismic shift in our environment. As humans we are resilient and yet we have been strongly affected by changes that feel threatening to our stability and the structures on which we depend. How do we cope individually and collectively? We can appreciate the intensity of our own individual experience, and the particular pace that’s right for us to begin adapting and or pivoting toward life transitions. I might notice I need to change my priorities. I may need to be more patient with myself as I get ready to start something that seems new, awkward, and even scary.
What about the children? Children are generally resilient, and yet there are caveats and sensitivities to keep in mind. Children need structure, security, predictable routines in order to feel safe and thrive. There are also individual differences to consider. Some children may feel shaky about going back to school since the memory of how school works may have faded. Unlike adults, young children are not always able to express in words how they are feeling, but changes in their behavior can be clues to how they are coping.
Anxious or depressed children may be clingy and less able to separate from caregivers. They may be more moody and irritable, complain of headaches or stomach aches, or have trouble sleeping.
Children look to their parents to get clues about how to understand and respond to the world. So it is important for parents to react calmly and not overwhelm their children with their own anxieties. Remind the children of all the positive things you are doing to keep your family healthy and safe – getting vaccinated, frequently washing hands, wearing masks, and safely spending time together engaging in fun activities.
Here are some things you can do to increase your feelings of safety and to cope with emotional distress:
*Follow the CDC guidelines about social distancing, masking and vaccinations.
*Take one day at a time. Focus on the present instead of your fears of what might happen in the future.
* Accept and understand yourself. Breathe and work towards inner peace by taking one small step every day towards your physical and emotional health.
*Engage in activities that you feel are safe.
*Stay connected. Share your worries with people you trust. You may find that they have similar feelings.
Know that you are not alone.
We should not ignore the clear evidence that the mental health of adults and children has been negatively impacted by the pandemic. It is understandable that a return to normalcy is not going to be easy and that it will take time for people to feel comfortable again. If you are worried that your emotional distress is interfering with your ability to get things done, talking to a mental health professional can help.
The Northeast Counties Association of Psychologists (NCAP) is the local mental health organization of licensed psychologists in Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties. Visit our website where you can learn more about our organization and find a directory of psychologists you can contact for help: www.northeastnjpsychassoc.org
Visit the NCAP Facebook page: www.facebook.com/NJNCAP/
Visit the New Jersey Psychological Association website for additional resources: www.psychologynj.org
Authors-Community Outreach Committee of Northeast Counties Association of Psychologists