Others Are Feeling Just Like You Do.
Why feeling depressed and anxious right now is normal, and why you can also have hope.
We must allow ourselves to grieve for the significant losses that have occurred in all of our lives, in varying forms, over the last half-year.
It is almost certain that there are a plethora of other people out there, feeling in similar ways to how you might be. You are not alone in this, though it may feel that way via the social isolation we have all been struggling with over the last months.
We have lost much within this pandemic.
We have much to gain too (which I will get to shortly).
First, though, we must acknowledge the pain of what is happening.
People are angry. At our terrible, corrupt, bumbling government. At other people’s refusal to accept the reality of the pandemic and thus, their behavior is compromising and furthering the problem even more. At other people’s ignorance and sense of entitlement and, again, this creating even more problems and stretching the pandemic out longer and longer, resulting in more lives lost and more people sick. At our terrible healthcare system which robs people blind and doesn’t even provide care that is so great. At our hole-laden, thin, weak social safety net, if you can even call it that.
People are lonely. They feel socially isolated and cut off, from friends, colleagues, maybe even family. We aren’t having dinner parties and fun gatherings with people. No one feels safe coming over to hang out and play board games for the afternoon. People are not going out dancing or out to dinner. Many people who were casually dating when the pandemic hit have ceased that.
People are anxious. What is going to happen, come November? This is possibly one of the most important questions of our lifetime. The fate of America quite literally depends on this election. Someone would have to be made of stone not be nervous about this. It’s monumental. We are walking a cliff edge right now. People are also anxious about things like potential job loss, getting sick themselves, losing their home, how might they pay their bills if they do lose their job, and, and, and. All of this has a major impact on mental health and well-being. And the big one: when will this end?
People miss the interactions and activities of once-daily life. Talking with people at work, laughing with colleagues, attending work parties, seeing friends on the weekend, going to workout classes, going out to eat, having a group of friends over to your home for drinks. Popping into a cafe for some donuts. Walking around an indoor market. Going to the movies on a Saturday night. Sharing an appetizer plate with friends. All of this is no more (at least, temporarily).
People are exhausted. I’ve heard of many parents staying home with their children, being forced into trying to balance both working and full-time childcare, who are beyond exhausted and overloaded. Who feel completely overwhelmed. Some people’s jobs have grown less demanding during this time, while many others have gone in the opposite direction. Some people within our current situation are working harder and longer hours than they ever were before. They may have little to no free time for themselves. This can and will take a toll. For many, it already is.
People feel disconnected. Zoom meetings are ok, but they don’t cut it. Seeing a friend face-to-face, sitting across from, and being with them in person, there is no substitute for this. People are afraid to get too close to one another. They cross the street now to avoid walking within even a few feet of one another. They no longer hug. Kids aren’t playing together anymore. People are terrified to have their children be touched or held by friends and loved ones. All of this is a huge loss. Huge.
According to a 2018 national survey by Cigna, loneliness levels in America had reached an all-time high that year, with nearly half of 20,000 U.S. adults reporting they sometimes or always feel alone. Forty percent of survey participants also reported they sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful and that they feel isolated. A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) found that more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely and nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated.
So, prior to COVID, Americans were already socially impoverished and disconnected. Thus, these numbers have unquestionably climbed.
Most people right now are feeling some semblance of the above emotions. How could they not be? We are all likely feeling them to different degrees, as each of us is different in terms of temperament, personality, etc. But the vast majority of us are feeling them.
You are not alone. We are all being impacted. Your feelings are normal. The pandemic is affecting all of us.
In a recent KFF poll, nearly half (45%) of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the virus.
A new study from researchers at San Diego State University and Florida State University is exploring how the Coronavirus is affecting the mental health of Americans (COVID-19’s Psychological Toll: Mental Distress Among Americans Has Tripled During the Pandemic Compared to 2018 by Markham Heid in TIME). The study has not yet undergone peer review, but its preliminary data are among the first to offer more details on the scope of the country’s coronavirus-related psychological struggles.
Within the last few months, more than 1 in 4 U.S. adults met the criteria that psychologists use to diagnose serious mental distress and illness. This is a roughly 700% increase from data collected in 2018.
Meanwhile, roughly 70% of Americans have experienced moderate to severe mental distress — triple the rate seen in 2018. While this surge in mental distress showed up across age and demographic groups, young adults and those with children experienced the most pronounced spikes. According to Healthline.com, women, minorities, people with preexisting health conditions, and adults under 34 all reported higher rates of fear and anxiety.
Now, for the hope part of this article, because yes, there is hope.
Good can come of all of this. Much good. That depends largely on all of us, though.
We can vote out the tyrannical, destructive, terror from our White House and give America a chance to actually survive. That is step one and it’s crucial.
We can protest and demand a better healthcare system. Americans spend the most on healthcare of any rich nation, and we have some of the worst health outcomes of any rich country. Each individual spends, on average, $10,700 a year on healthcare (co-pays, appointments, medication, procedures), and here in America, we have the highest rates of chronic illness, obesity, and suicide. We aren’t doing so hot health-wise, even though the medical system robs us blind.
(For a staggering look at this issue in-depth, I highly recommend reading Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism by Anne Case and Angus Deaton, two Princeton Professors who researched this topic heavily).
We can also protest and demand better social safety nets. Again, other rich countries have them. Much of Europe, Canada, New Zealand, to name a few. Why don’t we? We have no excuse. This country has money. We can do so much better by our citizens. So we must vote for people who support and promise better social systems for all of us (this includes better healthcare).
Do not cut yourself off from relationships and life entirely, while still being as safe as you can during this pandemic. See friends and loved ones, but outside and with a few feet of space between you. Yes, even this winter when things are unpleasant outside, have friends over and open up all the windows. Get a heating lamp. It’ll get chilly in there for a few hours. Everyone can wear jackets. Crank up the heat when they leave. It sounds nuts but guess what? Emotional health is crucial in this crisis too, because emotional health impacts and is directly tied to physical health. People need people. Find a way to see the people you care about and make it as safe as possible. Make it happen. Get creative. Do not cut friends and loved ones from your life for months and months out of fear and anxiety. This is no way to live. We need to find a way to live with the pandemic. This is one of those ways.
Take care of your mental health. Exercise. Sleep well. Talk to friends on the phone or on Skype often (or, meet them in person outside, the best case scenario). Watch comedy shows. Read books that uplift you. Talk with a counselor with whom you have a good connection. Have a couple of friends over and do a workout class in your backyard with them (make it up together or find something on YouTube). Go hiking. Eat healthy foods. Take an online class, if you can afford it, in a topic that interests you.
And know that this will end. Nothing lasts forever. The world, relationships, people, jobs, all of it is ever-shifting and in flux. There will come a time when we look back on this and shake our heads in disbelief. What that picture will look like in the future, though? That depends on all of us.