The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t going to end all at once. It will be gradual, with fits and starts. Likewise, we can’t flip the switch on our emotions and go back to how we were in 2019.
We talked to UNC mental health experts Nadia Charguia, MD, and Matthew Cohen, PhD, about four mental health struggles that people might be experiencing right now and what to do about them.
1. Chronic burnout
If you’ve found yourself saying or thinking, “I just can’t do it anymore,” and you absolutely meant it, you’re not alone. One of the most common struggles of the pandemic is burnout, which is a psychological state marked by exhaustion, a lack of enthusiasm and an inability to cope with stress.
“With all these changes, many have fudged on boundaries—boundaries of when to start working, when to stop working,” Dr. Charguia says. “So much more of our life has needed so much more of us, so it’s understandable why we’re in a state of burnout.”
People suffering from burnout might be more irritable, angry or frustrated than normal, and they might have an increased need for sleep or an inability to get restful sleep, she says.
If you’re experiencing burnout, you can take steps to feel better.
First, Dr. Charguia suggests asking yourself: “What does it take for me to feel more whole? What does it take to replenish those energy reserves, those emotional reserves?”
Identify one small step to start to take better care of yourself, Dr. Charguia says. This could be doing a short yoga video online each day or asking your boss whether an upcoming deadline could be more flexible.
“As life continues to change, take time to revisit how you can make sure that you’re taking care of yourself,” Dr. Charguia says. “Try to put boundaries in place so that work isn’t getting all the attention or family isn’t getting all the attention.”
If you want assistance dealing with burnout and its effects on your life, a mental health professional can help.
If returning to normal activities makes you feel anxious, that’s not unusual.
“We’ve been living in this world where so many have been in this hypervigilant state,” Dr. Charguia says. “Given how abruptly everything changed and how it changed all parts of our lives, it is only understanding that it will take time to move out of that state of hypervigilance.”
While it’s normal to experience anxiety right now, there are things you can do to help manage it.
Try to engage in mindfulness activities if you feel worried or anxious.
This can be as simple as pausing to take a deep breath, which can help you become more aware of any heightened anxiety that you may be feeling. That awareness can help you observe your anxiety, rather than getting lost in it, and can help you feel calmer.
Active problem-solving can also be effective for combating anxiety. For example, before you engage in an activity such as going to your neighborhood pool or getting your car inspected, make sure that you know what safety measures are in place and that you understand your risks. This way, you are taking control and can make an informed decision about whether you feel comfortable participating in that activity.
Finally, don’t be afraid to seek professional mental health help to manage that stress.
“We need to be kind and patient with ourselves, allow ourselves some time to adjust and to openly talk to others if we’re feeling apprehension and nervousness,” Dr. Charguia says.
About 1 in 5 Americans lost a relative or close friend to COVID-19, which means that millions of people may be experiencing profound grief. Millions more lost jobs, which can take a tremendous toll on an individual and family.
But even those who did not lose loved ones or jobs are experiencing grief right now, Dr. Charguia says. “There’s a lot of very vague, intangible sources of grief, like the grief around the idea of what this year was supposed to look like—what our hopes were that didn’t happen.”
You might feel grief that your daughter’s kindergarten year looked nothing like you expected. Or you might grieve your independence after moving back in with your parents. Students may grieve for graduation ceremonies that were canceled (high school and college).
If you are experiencing grief, spend some time in self-reflection. Ask yourself why you are feeling this way. Talking about it with a friend or family member can help.
“It’s important to acknowledge and accept these emotions that are coming up and make space for them, and then respond to them in a nurturing and compassionate way,” Dr. Cohen says. “This is a really pivotal time; to move forward without processing grief can position us to have these wounds that aren’t healed.”
Talking to a mental health professional is a great way to cope with grief and take care of yourself, Dr. Cohen says.
If you think therapy might be right for you, talk to your doctor. If you don’t have one, find a doctor near you.