As society deals with a plethora of unprecedented challenges at the hands of COVID-19 — from stay-at-home and social distancing mandates to business shutdowns, economic upheaval, and continued uncertainty as to what work, school, and life will look like in the future — experts agree that the pandemic has created a level of anxiety like nothing ever experienced.
“For some, the COVID pandemic has triggered a sense of helplessness and brought up memories of past trauma, such as domestic violence, child abuse, or the experience of losing a loved one to a terminal illness,” shared Dr. Stephen J. Oreski, LCSW, principal of Dr. Stephen J. Oreski & Associates, Paramus-based psychotherapy and counseling practice dedicated to helping adults, children, and couples make significant positive changes in their lives. “Though these memories are often long-buried, the pandemic can click all of those switches and leave people feeling like they’re re-experiencing them again on another level.”
According to Dr. Oreski, the COVID pandemic can affect our mental health in many other ways as well. For example, “we’re seeing a lot of challenges in relationships between couples, as the pandemic can be a make-or-break moment that either brings couples together or drives them apart,” he said, adding that children can also find the current circumstances difficult and confusing. “Kids are used to socializing with each other and now many of them only have their siblings or parents to interact with,” he explained. “Many are also unable to understand why they can’t go out or touch things, and with fewer ways to expend their energy, we’re seeing more kids crying, moping, or experiencing malaise.”
As for the rest of us, “a lot of people are experiencing anxiety and depression from a lack of in-person connection to others and the absence of their normal routine, and with a further inability to see friends, work out at the gym, socialize at a restaurant, etc., many of our coping skills and go-to stress-reduction activities have been ripped away from us,” he said. This reality has resulted in a spike in mental health disorders, substance use, domestic violence, and child abuse.
“There’s a collective grieving for the year and the key milestones we all missed — including graduations, weddings, holidays, vacations, and more — that we still have yet to come to terms with,” Dr. Oreski said. “I think that after the virus itself, mental health issues will be the second wave of this pandemic.”
Navigating Your Mental Health During the Pandemic
Following, Dr. Oreski offers some proactive coping mechanisms to help people stay positive and healthy during this challenging time:
Maintain Connections — “The No. 1 thing that helps to sustain mental health is social connection,” Dr. Oreski said. “Whether it’s through Zoom calls or socially distanced events outdoors with family members, friends, or neighbors, maintain connections wherever you can.”
Stick to a Structure — According to Dr. Oreski, the lack of a structure each day can contribute to a sense of free-fall. “Whether it’s eating at certain times, carving out a specific time to exercise, or creating a clear separation between your work and living spaces at home, a daily routine can reduce anxiety by helping you feel more in control,” he said.
Be Present — “Rather than looking back at what you’ve missed and can’t change or looking too far into the future and worrying about things you can’t control, try to stay grounded in the present and appreciate everything you have at this moment,” Dr. Oreski said.
Protect Yourself — Dr. Oreski said that proactive measures to protect your immune system are key to weathering this public and mental health crisis. “Be sure you’re eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep,” he advised. “These steps can reduce cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone, and help ensure that your immune system is healthy and robust.”
Have Faith — “There’s an old adage that says ‘it’s always darkest before the dawn,” Dr. Oreski said. “We need to remember that even though we’re living through challenging circumstances, this is a temporary situation, things will eventually return to a better place, and we can put the pieces back together in a healthier and more productive way. If nothing else, this experience may make us more appreciative of our family and friends, the ability to hug someone, or the opportunity to go on an airplane,” he said. “It’s about being grateful for what we have, being happy to be alive, and appreciating all of the little things and the people in our lives.”
Dr. Stephen J. Oreski & Associates is located at 15 Farview Terrace, Suite 1 in Paramus. With nearly a dozen experienced therapists (including those who speak Spanish) in the practice, team members work collaboratively with each client to develop a counseling plan tailored to their individual needs and help them resolve challenges in their life. For more information, call (551) 579-4441, text (551) 239-1231, or visit bergencountytherapist.com.
— Susan Bloom