Changes in today’s society have been fast and furious since the COVID-19 pandemic made phrases such as “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” a part of everyday vocabulary.
During this time of uncertainty, increasing fear and anxiety can take a toll on mental health.
“Most of us have never experienced anything like it in our lifetime,” said Tammy Dramstad, clinical director of Community Counseling Services in Huron. “The face of our landscape is changing as we social distance from family, friends and neighbors.
“As individuals, we are social creatures by nature and isolation can increase symptoms of anxiety and depression,” Dramstad said. “It is vitally important to find creative ways to stay connected with friends, family and neighbors. Use social mediums such as Facebook or video chatting with your friends and family. These are great ways to remind ourselves that we are not alone.”
The uncertainty of what is happening can also be very stressful, Dramstad said.
“This uncertainty can increase if you are focusing on headlines or keeping the television on throughout the day,” she said. “While it is never a bad thing to keep up to date with community and world events, too much can become overwhelming. It may be time to step back from the media, which can be helpful in coping with feelings related to anxiety and depression.
“Work to schedule regular ‘chat times’ with your friends and family,” Dramstad said. “Also make an effort to talk to others about things that are not stressful — the funny thing your child or pet did that day. It is important to laugh with others.”
Parents have become teachers in the home with the support of distance learning, and children are no longer able to play with other children in the neighborhood because of social distancing.
“Children cope with everyday stressors or trauma in different ways than adults,” Dramstad said. “Children seek to share their story through the social narrative of play. Take time to play with them and talk to your child about what they know about COVID-19. This will allow you to correct any misinformation.
“Your child may be grieving his/her sense of normalcy,” she added. “Keep your child’s daily routine structured. Knowing what comes next helps to soothe unease for children. Allow them to have choices in their day.”
This summer CCS will be offering group services for children to teach social skills and how to cope with concerns related to COVID-19. They also offer similar groups for adults including parenting skills, anger management, DUI, batters group and classes addressing a history of trauma.
“Helping others is a great way to give back and feel better about ourselves,” Dramstad said. “It’s also a great reminder that we can still make a difference in our communities. Lastly, be kind to yourself and others. Kindness can have a great widespread impact.”
Doug Anderson, a licensed psychologist and co-director at Sioux Falls Psychological Services, which has offered a satellite office in Huron for the past three years, said he believes the mental health aspects of this physical health crisis will grow significantly.
“Once people hunker down and get exhausted in being home, bad marriages are worse, depression is worse and anxiety is worse,” Anderson said.“People are told to remain calm, but this is an anxiety provoking situation. It’s more a matter of managing our anxiety.
“Breathing is one of the more common things that we need help with in a crisis,” he said. “We tend to take air in and hold it when we’re anxious. The need is to inhale deeply and exhale, and just breathe. It makes a difference in people’s lives.”
That is advice Dramstad said she shares as well. “Breathe deeply through your nose all the way into your diaphragm and count to four,” Dramstad said. “Breath out slowly through your mouth, counting to four as you exhale. Focus only on your breathing until you feel a sense of calm.”
When normal routines are thrown for a loop as they were in this outbreak, the lack of predictability is a big issue and can raise stress levels, Anderson said.
“In being human, we have agency to choose and decide things,” Anderson added. “When things aren’t predictable, we fall prey to the situation and lose the capacity to make good choices.
“One of the things we tend to do in a crisis is the fight or freeze tendency, when you can’t fight because you can’t see the enemy but you can’t flee,” he said. “People tend to go into this numbed or spacey kind of existence.
“One of the big things I’ve heard a lot is people saying what day is it,” he said, “We lose time and we lose sequencing when we’re in a crisis. We lose touch with basic things, they are not as relevant as the crisis we feel we’re in.”
Anderson suggests some form of physical activity, and also praised the benefits of yoga and meditation in helping calm the mind.
“Staying connected to ‘now’ is really important,” he said. “People feel a real loss of safety. Different ways of coping can include prayer —whatever your faith position — Buddhism, Hindu, Christianity — prayer is important.”
Laura Hemenway, who works at First United Methodist Church in Huron, said keeping in touch with her family and prayer partners through social media has helped her cope.
“Within a week I went from going to town every day to being home every day,” Hemenway said. “Dealing with the isolation, fear and loss of income is very real.
“One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as I cope with COVID-19 is that I’m simply not in control,” she added. “When I begin to feel like I might hyperventilate, I realize I’m focusing on the waves of chaos around me and I need to redirect my focus to Jesus.”
Hemenway said she has found that having a purpose helps her cope. Her purpose through this crisis has been working with a friend, Rita Hilgedick, to get a Master Gardener project launched to help families obtain vegetable seeds and soil mix to start their own gardens at home.
“It is my hope that some of these seeds will grow to provide some food for families,” Hemenway said. “When I take my focus off my challenges and think of others, it relieves the pressure of anxiety and helps me to cope. I can choose to live with gratitude and be a blessing to others as I make the most of this day. It is going to be okay. God’s got this.”
Jan Manolis, director of the Jan Manolis Family Safe Center, said they have continued helping victims through this crisis.
“I believe there are good things coming from this challenge, parents spending more time with children and family than they used to,” Manolis said. “More family time is not a good thing for some victims of domestic abuse. When an abuser goes to work, a victim has a chance to get help. Not so if the abuser no longer goes to work.”
Another victim of the COVID-19 pandemic have been fundraisers that help support the JMFSC. The Dweebs had been scheduled to perform a fundraiser on April 18, but as many other activities, it was canceled due to the virus. Manolis said she hopes the epidemic will have settled down by September, when their annual Bags, Baubles and Bears fundraiser is planned.
“We may have to consider other fundraising options,” Manolis said. “But just look how we have come together as a nation, we have seen such caring, love and dedication in so many ways. I think God has gotten our attention. I still have faith, and I believe that this too shall pass.”
Anderson said he believes three words carry relevance to getting through the COVID-19 crisis — Connection. Love. Service.
“Connection, love and service seem to be three words that resonate in a time of crisis,” Anderson said. “That all has to do with us coming together. One of the best ways to stay connected and to give and receive love is to serve. Find ways to serve others during this time of national health crisis and you will both benefit others and yourself.”