When the coronavirus pandemic overtook the United States in March, no one knew what the tolls would be on society.
Since then, much has happened. The country has seen financial hardships, political unrest and, of course, fear associated with COVID-19. And all those stressors have led to anxieties that might not have been there for some people, said Rachel Russell, a licensed mental health counselor at Hope Counseling Clinic in Winter Garden.
Russell — who specializes in a variety of psychological foci such as anxiety and trauma — said she has seen a rise in anxiety levels of both clients and the community in general. Something as simple as being around others in a home has led to anxieties, she said.
“Parents who have to stay home with their kids now who would generally work ... maybe they loved the opportunity to stay home with their kids, but not in this way where there is no other option for anything else and it’s 24/7,” Russell said. “And couples weren’t meant to be together 24/7 and to work from home. We were meant to have some balance where we have friendships outside of our marriage.”
With many being stuck at home for months, Russell said she had seen people facing this issue, and often, there is a series of signs when things begin to go sour. The stress of being around someone for so long can lead to people being short with one another, becoming easily irritable and just having the feeling of being stuck.
However, there are some ways to work through it.
“Some things that can really help with that is recognizing, ‘OK, we really need to get those serotonin levels in our brains up,’” Russell said. “For me, if I just need to run into the store because I need to get a sweater, I end up maybe spending a half-hour just walking around Marshalls — being around the energy of other people — looking at different things that are meant to make me feel good.
“And when we’re not able to do that, I think it drains us,” she said. “So we have to do purposeful things of what we call self-care — going out and taking a walk, taking time to get together with a friend.”
Another thing that can really help is to simply talk out how you’re feeling with those around you, said Jesse Radloff, a licensed mental health counselor at Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital.
“There’s a number of things — one of the easiest, hopefully, for most people — is if you live with people sit down and have an honest and empathic discussion among everyone who lives together to set some kind of boundaries,” Radloff said. “Explain what your needs are and come to a consensus so you can still have some sense of your space.”
With many now using digital communication hubs such as Zoom to communicate with their family and jobs, there is a disconnect that exists and it can lead to what is now being termed as “Zoom fatigue.”
Radloff compared it to the difference between calling and texting, as the latter creates a disconnect where tone and speech patterns are missed and can be misinterpreted. Communicating face-to-face is how we’ve been programmed, he said.
“It’s estimated that 80% of what we communicate is done non-verbally,” Radloff said. “If you have six different people on the screen and you’re trying to read their faces but you can’t see their postures, what they are doing with their hands or what’s going on around them, that can ... take away that very important element of how we are wired to interact and communicate.”
That said, both Radloff and Russell agreed that for the time being, communication is key to keeping yourself in better mental health.
“We’re being creative because we need to be, so I’d rather they being doing that than not be doing anything,” Russell said. “It’s not as fulfilling as being in a room full of people or being one-on-one with people — even if they are surface-level conversations, they fill a need for us. Zoom … FaceTime, it can be more draining than it can fill us, but it does fill us a little bit, so we need to do that.”