As the last six months have demonstrated, no one is immune to the impacts of Covid-19. Its effects have been far-reaching here in Northern Virginia and have touched everyone’s life in some way. In the blink of an eye, our world has turned upside down, and we have felt the impacts in so many areas of our lives: mental, emotional, and relational health; and our jobs, finances, and education — just to name a few.
Sunstone Counseling has always been here to serve the community, but we’ve seen an influx of new and returning clients reaching out specifically for help with managing Covid-related stress. As I thought about writing this column, I wanted to include the voices of our staff and what they’re hearing from the community as a reminder that we are all in this together and to help normalize the difficult emotions that many of us are experiencing.
At Sunstone, our counselors are hearing that health and school issues spark the most worry and stress. This is not surprising given the severity of the physical effects of Covid and its ability to affect everyone — young and old. Combine that with distance learning for kids and parents stepping in as teachers and it’s the perfect recipe for emotional distress.
Job worries and relationship issues follow closely behind as stressors for many in the community. The specter of unemployment, working from home, and being quarantined with family have left many people feeling unmoored and overwhelmed. Even our highly trained Sunstone Counseling staff is not immune to the mental health impact of the pandemic. Our counselors face challenges such as screen fatigue, isolation, and navigating co-parenting while working from home. This is a good reminder that regardless of our training or profession, we’re all human and face similar hurdles, especially in times of crisis.
Ways to cope
At Sunstone Counseling we’ve always been committed to guiding our clients to a brighter tomorrow and a healthier and more fulfilled life. While that commitment may be harder to deliver during the pandemic, we have doubled down on helping the community navigate this challenging time and offer the following suggestions:
• Self-care. Now more than ever it’s important to care for yourself so you can care for others and face life’s challenges. Start with the basics such as eating well, exercising often, and getting enough sleep. It is also important to prioritize those restorative acts that bring you joy — whether it’s taking a bath, listening to music, or eating dinner with your family.
• Self-soothing. Our counselors have long advocated for clients to use strategies such as mindfulness, breathing exercises, visualizations, meditation, and exercise to calm the mind and body. These techniques are powerful stress reducers and are quick and accessible methods to find relief from episodic and long-term stressors.
• Get Zen. One of the many things the pandemic has highlighted is our lack of control over most things. This crisis presents a great opportunity to practice self-compassion as well as acceptance of what you can and cannot control. It’s perfectly understandable to worry about when we’ll get back to “normal” or have a vaccine. The key is recognizing that most of your worries are out of your control. Instead, use this time to focus on what you can control such as maintaining social connections, taking precautions against getting sick, and helping those in need in your community. When you’re focused on what’s in your circle of control, your mind can be calm and clear.
Amid the pandemic and social and political unrest, it’s understandable to slip into a dark place and pay more attention to the negative events unfolding. But, as we’ve heard from our staff and clients, there are some surprising outcomes and benefits from the pandemic.
With the reduced flurry of activities, errands, and social obligations, we have an opportunity to catch our breath and rest. We can — literally and figuratively — stop and smell the roses. Additionally, the slower pace gives us time to reflect on what’s important. Suddenly the pre-pandemic activities and obligations don’t seem as compelling as connecting with loved ones, valuing our health, or enjoying the outdoors.
Valuing our mental health
As I think ahead to what is coming around the bend for our community, I certainly don’t have all (or even most) of the answers, but I do know that in some ways it has brought out the best in our community and offers us the opportunity to prioritize our mental health. It is my hope that more open and honest mental health conversations will take place and that everyone will feel comfortable and empowered to seek help when they need it — during the pandemic and beyond.
Amy Clay, LPC, is co-owner of Sunstone Counseling