As a psychologist who treats anxiety daily, I’ve been in a unique position during the pandemic. I can distinctly see the difference the last two years have had on individuals, families, and society in general.
Right now, we are seeing so many kids in our Children’s Center, it is mind-boggling. Children have been struggling with online teaching, loss of contact with friends and peers, and the disruption of everyday routines – and it shows.
We are also seeing many more adults in our Anxiety Center. Parents are trying to juggle lost incomes, kids learning virtually at home, relationship challenges, and the illness or loss of loved ones. The family/children aspect is also a big concern for parents right now. They are very worried about their kids and the schools are, too.
I remember when the pandemic started. At the time, I told colleagues that this virus would have two parts to it. Of course, the first and most apparent part would be the medical aspect, because we knew some people would get sick from it.
The second part, however, was the mental aspect, because every one of us would be affected by it in some way. This could be due to personally contracting the virus, or a lost job, the death of a loved one, the stress of shut downs, or the upending of our normal lives. Even if we have somehow managed to escape the virus’ direct impact, we have become aware of this bigger force looming over and all around us, over which we have no control.
Pandemic Trauma Effects
The pandemic is malignant. It is evil, malicious, and malevolent. The virus infects indiscriminately. It sickens or kills the young, the old, the rich, and the poor. Knowing this does not sit well with us.
Usually, we have an inherent coping mechanism that helps us distance ourselves from a traumatic event. We are capable of feeling sad or upset about a tragedy, while being able to go on with our usual day-to-day lives. But, this virus, this pandemic, is so big and so menacing, it is impossible not to pay attention to it.
In my opinion, one of the best stories ever written about life and how we ultimately deal with tragedy’s fallout is the Wizard of Oz. In the story, the bad, malignant force is the Wicked Witch. Dorothy needs the wizard to protect her from the witch and send her back to her normal world.
After many challenges, she finds there is no all-powerful wizard, just a mere man hiding behind a curtain. Her hopes are dashed. She has to manage on her own. Like Dorothy, we are on our own as we try to cope with the upheaval of the pandemic, both as individuals and as part of society.
We entered this crisis relying on authority figures (our governmental leaders, the CDC, the World Health Organization, etc.) to help us navigate through the unknown, but this hasn’t turned out as well as we had hoped. The problem is that humans have dependency needs. As children, we relied on our parents to keep us safe. Today, our needs are not being met by those in authority.
No Escape From Covid Stress
Because we feel fearful and unsafe, we’ve begun lashing out at other targets – and finding them in our fellow sufferers.
Think of it like this: If you were lost in the forest, you’d want to be with others instead of alone. But if the group couldn’t find their way out within a reasonable time, its members would begin turning on one another. “It’s your fault we didn’t turn right, instead of left,” someone might say. Soon the group would be fighting amongst themselves and people would start doing their own thing in an effort to feel like they had some control.
This is being reflected in the infighting we’re seeing amongst ourselves lately. Unfortunately, it will continue to be a long term effect of the pandemic. Indeed, as we emerge from this crisis, we won’t suffer as much from the medical aspect of the virus, but from the societal and psychological factors that are the result of it.
I can’t stress enough how essential it is to get your head out of the news headlines. They are almost always negative, shocking, and upsetting, and that is not good for your emotional health. Dealing with so much trauma in the news and in our personal lives creates chronic stress and disillusionment. This is much like the battle fatigue we see in military personnel during a war. It wears you down.
In this case, though, we have no battlefield to come off of.
The fact that we literally have no escape only adds to the mental fatigue, apathy, anxiety and depression the world is dealing with. As in my forest analogy, it seems that no authority figure can make things better, so we’ve become defiant. As a result, there are fights on airplanes, vaccine mandate protests, trucker blockades, and mask and vaccine refusals.
Resiliency And Moving Forward
There is no easy answer for managing the emotional stress of the past two years. As we move forward and the pandemic recedes, however, the resiliency we have as humans will allow us to bounce back. People can basically recover from anything. I’ve seen it happen over and over during the past three decades as a practicing psychologist.
That doesn’t mean we’ll develop amnesia or that there won’t be long term negatives from the pandemic. Doubtless, some people will come out of this feeling kinder towards each other, while some will feel more entitled, selfish, and rebellious. Nature has a way of correcting itself, though. It is like a pendulum swinging: for every reaction, there is an opposite reaction. I am hopeful that our innate nature will help humanity to better cope going forward.
Clearly, we need to take care of ourselves during this time. As the pandemic drags on, many people have begun reevaulating their priorities. This is contributing to The Great Reset we’ve been hearing about. We’re examining the things that are important to us. We want something new in our lives, something better – be it a new career, a new relationship, or a new hobby.
So, I encourage you to take the time to do the things that make you happy. Spend time with family. Look deep inside yourself to figure out what you want going forward. Take what has happened and learn from it.
Become more spiritual in a way that is meaningful to you. Be more aware of time and how quickly it passes: use your time well. Go out and live, but don’t be irresponsible. Instead, use this experience to make your life meaningful.
Remember that the Japanese symbol for ‘crisis’ is the same as the symbol for ‘opportunity.’ So, find your opportunity and turn this crisis into something positive!
If You Are Struggling…
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About Andrew Rosen PH.D., ABPP, FAACP
Dr. Andrew Rosen received his doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Hofstra University in New York in 1975 and completed an additional six years of psychotherapeutic and psychoanalytic training at the Gordon Derner Institute in New York, where he earned his certification as a psychoanalyst in 1983. In 1984, Dr. Rosen founded the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida, where he continues to serve as Director and to work as a board-certified, licensed psychologist providing in-person and telehealth treatment options.
Dr. Rosen is Board Certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). He is also a Clinical Fellow of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) and a Diplomate and Fellow in the American Academy of Clinical Psychology (FAACP). He is an active member of the American Psychological Association (APA), the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology, the Florida Psychological Association (FPA), and the Adelphi Society for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. Dr. Rosen was appointed a Clinical Affiliate Assistant Professor at the FAU College of Medicine in November, 2021. He is a Board Member of the National Social Anxiety Center. He has previously served as president of both the Palm Beach County Psychological Society and the Anxiety Disorders Association of Florida.