People are dying, the economy is struggling, and most people are sequestered at home feeling either lonely or overcrowded. The familiar routine of everyday life is fading as fast as healthy eating habits.
Some feel powerless or helpless, so they buy reams and reams of toilet paper because it is something they can do to get a feeling of control over an overwhelming force. It is all tailor-made to induce a physiological emergency.
“People are feeling helpless, feeling grief, guilt, fearful—you name it,” licensed mental health counselor Aimee Rozum said.
Like many other mental health professionals, Ms. Rozum is seeing an uptick in pandemic-related feelings that are expressed to her these days remotely through video screens or phone calls as she continues to work from her Falmouth home. She and other mental health and wellness experts on the Cape offer counsel and strategies on how to weather the pandemic.
“I’m noticing many of my clients are experiencing anticipatory grief. They know something bad is happening, a storm’s brewing, but not sure what the end result will be or when it will be,” Ms. Rozum said.
She likened it to the feeling of when a loved one is given a life-limiting diagnosis. “We start grieving before they are gone,” she said. “And nowadays we don’t know what all this means or what the end result will be, but we know there will be some feeling of loss, so we grieve. We’re grieving for our community, the world, our loved ones.”
Ms. Rozum helps her clients identify what they are feeling, including other common feelings such as survivor guilt and helplessness.
“Just naming it goes a long way. If we can name it, perhaps we can manage it and look for positive coping skills. It can be as simple as going for a walk, jog—exercises that use big muscle groups,” she said.
“We are being so sedentary right now, and moving helps process trauma. I don’t care if you dance around your kitchen, just get moving,” she said.
To soothe feelings of uncertainly and discomfort, she suggests breaking out a favorite book or movie.
“Re-reading or re-watching your favorites can be very soothing. There is comfort in the known and knowing how the story ends,” she said.
It is also an appropriate time to stock up on compassion.
“Keep your heart open as much as you can. We want to contract when we are feeling grief or anxious, but keeping up connections and finding ways to help others will help. If you can, donate money, make a mask, reach out to a neighbor or friend who may be struggling. Helping others makes up feel good and more in control, she said”
Kenneth Freedman, a clinical social worker and counselor in Sandwich, works with families, couples and individuals.
“I have found that whatever brought them to me to begin with, is now exacerbated having been home for weeks, either in isolation or with others. Both situations can present challenges,” he said.
Mr. Freedman said establishing a sense of normalcy through a routine can ease the feelings of uncertainty.
“Keep a routine. Shower each day, talk a daily walk, and work on a project,” he said.
Doing laundry and washing dishes does not count as a meaningful project, Mr. Freedman said. He suggests selecting a task with a future orientation as a reminder of a life after the pandemic.
“Paint a room, then after the pandemic, you can find art to hang on the walls, or have a dinner party to showcase it,” he said.
Many people seek him out to help with eating disorders, and he said he finds the intensity has shot up now that people have steady access to the fridge and cupboards.
“People are panicking about their weight and grazing, even those who do not have an eating disorder. Under normal circumstances, many of us have propensity to graze,” Mr. Freedman said. “Now add anxiety or economic hardship on top, and the urge to self-sooth with food is real.”
Binging on food is comforting, numbing and, in some cases, keeps us from dealing with the real issue we are grappling with, he said.
“It’s a very reliable way to switch things around from dealing with our unpredictable situation, to dealing with the predictable fallout from overeating,” Mr. Freedman said. “We know that familiar shame, self-hatred, from overeating, and that is easier to deal with than the unknown feelings related to the pandemic.”
His advice is to put some thought behind grazing or binging before committing to the act: “Try to pull your thoughts together for one minute. It can help make you more aware and perhaps you will put the bag of Oreos down if you can put some conscious thought behind it.”
Many are feeling pressured to navigate this lock-down period perfectly. Many feel an urgency to achieve lofty goals, like learning French or becoming proficient in Russian literature.
“We need to make sure our kids and ourselves are keeping productivity levels high,” Mr. Freedman said. “Then we go on Facebook and measure ourselves against others who post their exquisite coq au vin that would make Julia Childs proud, or who have set up a weekly color-coded chore chart that the kids are happily following.”
Janell Burley Hofmann, an author, speaker and consultant on family well-being, said, “There’s too much pressure placed on whether we’re doing the pandemic right.”
These days Ms. Hofmann is at home in Sandwich with her five children and husband.
“We don’t need to see this through a lens of perfection, but focus on what is right for you and your family,” she said.
“Do daily wellness checks on your children,” she advised, asking how they are doing and letting them know the family is there to support each other. For single parents going it alone right now, she recommends making a list of people on your parenting team—teachers, other parents, parenting groups—and reach out when feeling overwhelmed.
“Treat your children and teens like humans, not productive and obedient robots. Nurture their autonomy while supporting them with boundaries,” she said. Noting that teens are most likely feeling as disconnected to life as adults are, she advises to ease up on strict screen time rules.
“Let’s face it, all those limits you’ve dutifully placed on screen time are about to completely blow up,” she said. “Right now it’s providing a way for teenagers to connect with friends and community, and also passing the time.”
For adults craving conversation, she has created a podcast meant to recreate an informal gathering of friends and family—a virtual chat as if sitting in the living room by the fire, or gathering around the kitchen island. It can be found at www.janellburleyhofmann.com/podcast.
“I was missing talking to people and I thought others must be as well. It’s about connecting and conversation,” Ms. Hofmann said.