The coronavirus pandemic has been stressful. Fear and anxiety surrounding it can be overwhelming at times for people of all ages.
While we worry about the health and safety of ourselves and others, stress can manifest in many ways: trouble sleeping, changes in eating patterns, having a hard time concentrating, and could worsen existing mental or physical health conditions.
Everyone reacts differently, but a therapist can help you cope. Whether you’ve regularly gone to therapy or are considering reaching out for help as you stay at home, therapists can give you tools and guidance.
"There is a heightened sense of stress right now, and the body's response to that stress is both physical and emotional — it takes a toll on us," says Christine Finerty, a licensed mental health therapist and founder of Touchstone Counseling. "And that can be a problem, especially when we are confined to our houses and spending more time with people than we're used to spending under the same roof."
Therapists are going through this pandemic and trying to adapt to life under COVID-19, just like their clients. Learning new technology and operating telehealth for clients by video or phone was a big learning curve for Finerty. She notes that clients have also had trouble finding a spot they feel comfortable in so they can be open, vulnerable and honest. So, for some clients, that's meant going out into the garage and having a session in their car.
"There are challenges, but I think the upside is learning our clients in a whole new way," says Finerty. "This has really required us to become much more relatable to our clients because we’re all going through this together.”
Finerty says that our relationships with others will change as a result of this experience.
"Our knowledge and understanding of the importance of face-to-face communication is really going to be something that I think enhances and lifts our relationships with others and brings us closer," she says. "And I think that our level of resilience right now is really growing and developing, and we're learning how to change and adapt — and it's difficult. For some people, it's really quite devastating."
Finerty likens it to a forest fire — it can be devastating and completely change the landscape, but there is always re-growth and there is hope for new and different. "The world is changing and we will come through this. And it won't look the same, but it's OK," she says.
Make a schedule for yourself/your household
During times of prolonged stress, uncertainty and unpredictability, Finerty says having a schedule and routine is paramount.
"A schedule allows us to feel a sense of control in a time that we don't feel control," she explains. Keep in mind that your new schedule shouldn't be modeled after the way your life was before the pandemic, but it should include these key features:
- Have a proper sleep and wake schedule.
- Eat properly and regularly.
- Spend a minimum of 10 minutes outside.
- Get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day.
- Connect with others.
Designate your spaces
Have separate spaces for work, time for connecting with friends and for eating. If you live in a confined space — even if you just have one table — work from one chair, switch to another to eat, and switch to another chair to connect with friends.
"It may sound silly, [but giving] your brain a break and a change of scenery and positioning is really, really helpful," Finerty says.
Stick to your boundaries and structure
"Post your schedule on a public space in the house so that everyone else can respect and understand the time you're spending," says Finerty.
While it can be a hard thing to start and kids can certainly complicate the process, it's for everyone.
"Join with them and say, 'Listen, we're doing this for all of us. It is not just you that we're imposing the schedule on. It's new, and it's different and we're all going to try this,' " Finerty says.
Try following your new schedule for at least two weeks and see what needs to be adjusted. Remember, we're all learning what works best for us!
During this pandemic, WUWM's Bubbler Talk is focusing on the coronavirus and its impact on the Milwaukee area. If you have a question, submit it below.