by Gail Schuster, LICSW, ACSW
If there’s one truth that comes out of COVID for me as a therapist, it’s that there is no one truth about the way this crisis affects people.
Some clients I was working with before the pandemic have continued to make progress on their goals. COVID has even provided unexpected opportunities for some such as extra time to exercise or develop a new hobby. Some individuals are finding their inner hero during this time; faced with this potentially deadly challenge, they’ve been able to rise up and face it. Having a real enemy to fight, they’ve been able to get outside of themselves and focus on a purpose.
However, many individuals have had to suspend or shift the actions they were planning to take toward reaching their goals. One person had hoped to find a job in a different city. But it’s really hard to think about moving when you can’t go visit new places—and you know that when you get there, it will be hard to make new friends. A few people had wanted to get back into dating, or just have a more active social life. Again, everything is screened through the lens of COVID. And even though the vaccines are giving us hope of a return to “normal” life, we still don’t know when that will be or exactly what it will look like.
One client has a hobby that brought him in contact with other people, and I encouraged him to find an online group that connects over that activity. A lot of us are more willing to connect online than we ever were in the past. But again, that isn’t true for everyone. A person who is currently sitting in front of a computer all day in a spare bedroom may not feel like interacting in that same space on the weekend. For many people, the uncertainty and isolation of this time has intensified the loneliness, depression or anxiety they were already experiencing. As stress levels increase, relationship issues may grow more intense, especially when people are forced to share a common space most of the time.
I encourage my clients to examine their negative emotions, and together we try to figure out what’s causing them. When we can identify what we need in any given day, then we can work on a strategy for meeting that need. For example, if we’ve lost a routine that gave our life structure and purpose, we can work on finding a new one. I also ask people to identify how they’re spending their time amid the pandemic. Are they reading more, talking on the phone more or spending more time being creative? Are they spending hours watching junk TV or glued to 24-hour news, which may make them anxious or depressed? Being more intentional about increasing the activities that support our mental health and wellbeing positively impacts our feelings.
Right now, a key ingredient is missing in all of our lives—other people. Even if we enjoy spending time alone or with our families, we need other people. Finding ways to cope with this reality and our other challenges is what therapy is all about—and COVID hasn’t changed that.
CJFS offers individual and group counseling for people of all ages -- in person, by phone or via video apps such as FaceTime and Zoom. Insurance is accepted. To learn more, contact Clinical Director Marcy Morgenbesser, firstname.lastname@example.org or 205.879.3438.