No one can deny that 2021 has been a momentous year. It has had a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly for sure. It has at times been frightening, confusing, comforting and educational. We have witnessed a very unusual presidential election, a subsequent denial by some of the validity of the election and an unheard of polarization of our peers and lawmakers. Most critically, we have endured a gift that keeps on giving; the novel coronavirus that has killed countless people world-wide and more fellow Americans than we would have ever anticipated. We have had to learn the meaning of the word epidemiology as it relates to health and wellness. Unfortunately, we now know explicitly what a spike protein is and looks like. More than ever before we have been influenced (for good and bad) by the internet and social media. Although we have been witness to conspiracy theories in the past, but this year has certainly been a boon time for them.
So it is important for us to sit back and take stock of the emotional and psychological impact of these events. A major fallout has been the confusion over what is fact and what is fiction. We have seen the major news networks disagreeing on many important issues. Who to believe? Proponents of networks that broadcast their unique take on the news may be diametrically opposite of the proponents of the “other” networks. To avoid getting into trouble I will leave the network names blank, but I am sure you know what I am talking about. There was a time in the 1950s and 1960s when veteran newscasters like Walter Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley, Douglas Edwards educated us nightly on national and world events. Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” conveyed the power and influence of the media. Somewhere during the subsequent decades all this has changed. It became apparent to television and radio that communicating news is basically a form of entertainment. Like most popular entertainment venues it becomes essential to be able to sell the programs to the masses. Media outlets have always been for profit businesses (exceptions being Public Radio and Public Television) but it seems that profitability became linked to the entertainment value of their shows. Newscasters and news commentators became the entertainers that we see today. Walter Cronkite would not succeed as a newscaster in 2021.
Along comes the world wide web and internet bringing to us the 24/7 experience of social media. Humanity has not been the same since. Due to the openness of social media to anyone with internet access, a huge amount of content has appeared on the screens and podcasts of this world. An interesting paradox has developed. Most social media participants should realize that what they see and hear reflects subjective information. However, at the same time, we are witnessing the tremendous influence of social media on the minds of attendees. It is as if misinformation has become the norm. Conspiracy theories have had a heyday. Part of the problem is that human beings have a strong tendency to be voyeurs. They like to be entertained. We are drawn to the unusual, fantastic and bizarre. Hence the success of reality TV no matter how strange or sensationalistic it can be. Consider the popularity of horror movies going back to the days of black and white silent films. It does appear that what we have been witnessing is the natural evolution of multimedia fueled by both the profit motive and the change in its audience.
So where does all this leave us? Because I am a physician and have been trained by the scientific method, I am familiar with how science interprets data. The scientific method pursues a rigorous investigative approach that carefully and objectively scrutinizes the data. The end results are conclusions that have a high degree of confidence. This approach makes the presence of misinformation, conspiracy theories and political partisanship puzzling.
If we now consider the confusing and at times frightening experiences we all have had coping with the coronavirus pandemic we must consider the lessons learned. On the one hand, the novelty of this virus has resulted in science advancing by the seat of its pants. We had a knowledge deficit from the get-go. So the scientific and medical thought leaders had to make recommendations as the data unfolded. Unfortunately, as we all know, this resulted in public health pronouncements that at times were puzzling; wearing protective masks were not necessary at one point and then absolutely essential at others. To make matters worse, the virus kept mutating creating a changing science database. The lay public has been left with a high degree of confusion resulting in a loss of confidence in the experts.
Enter social media and the competing media outlets. We were faced with a plethora of information overload with limited ability to fact check. What resulted was the presence of utter confusion, ongoing misinformation and the dominance of conspiracy theories. The confusion that ensued led to inadequate vaccination quotas, ongoing suffering and death for the peoples of the world. This may have been made more problematic due to a previous administration that essentially questioned science. Who to believe? Who to trust? How to deal with all the uncertainty and resultant anxiety?
I truly believe that we have all had to dig deep and develop more effective coping abilities. Individuals have had to try to limit their multimedia exposure because of its traumatizing potential. For many, anxiety and depression unfortunately ensued. Individuals who had difficulty understanding anxiety and depression in others suddenly found themselves empathetic with the mental health community. We have had to make difficult decisions about children, balancing social contact, in school education versus the risks of child infection or transmission. We have all had to experience the disconcerting pressures of uncertainty.
When pandemic life has been so difficult and confusing resilience is the sought after goal. We have learned that resilience development can be no more complex than attending to the basics of life balance. Life balance is about protecting a healthy sleep cycle and maintaining a consistent circadian rhythm. Adequate nutrition is also essential. The confinement of the pandemic lockdowns led to problematic nutrition and weight maintenance. It has been known for a long time that regular exercise helps to mitigate anxiety, stress and depression, but how is this possible when faced with the pandemic-related lack of outdoor exercise safety and the risks related to gym based workouts? People learned to exercise in place at home. We also learned about the need to appreciate the importance of the family unit and the need to protect and support our children.
Can there be take home messages from all that we have been through? I believe there are. They consist of:
- Understanding that social media has limitations despite how alluring it can be. Take social media data with a grain of salt and always reality test with the scientific data.
- Don’t let politics and partisanship allow your emotions to counteract your logic.
- Focus on your basic needs and a balanced daily routine.
- Maintain social interactions with friends and family even if in-person contact is replaced by virtual methods. Do not isolate. Social isolation breeds depression and despair.
- History tells us that troubling times do not last forever. There is light at the end of the tunnel. No matter how difficult life can be there is always hope.
- Be flexible as you process the data that gets presented to you. Nothing is written in stone. As with the covid pandemic, health information changes over time and we must accept this reality.
- Self calming techniques like meditation, mindfulness and exercise need to be developed.
We Are Here For You – Through The Pandemic And Beyond
If you are experiencing emotional and mental health challenges during the pandemic or afterwards, our licensed, professional therapists are available to help – in person, online or through a video session. Our virtual platforms are highly secure, allowing us to maintain absolute confidentiality with strict non disclosure policies.
Whatever the difficulties you are facing, we are here to listen and offer effective solutions. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.