Pay Attention to Your Mental HealthJun 29, 2020 12:00AM ● By Sarah R. Memoli
The past few months have introduced incredible amounts of stress and turmoil into the lives of so many Americans. The presence of COVID-19 in our society has brought about a collective experience of trauma, fear, grief, isolation, exposure to profound death, unsafe workplaces, unstable marriages, homeschooling of children, financial insecurity and instability, societal upheaval and collapse, and increasing civil tension and discord. For years prior to the pandemic, anxiety disorders in the United States had already been increasing steadily, fueled by a fast-paced society, overemphasis on productivity, decreasing amounts of quality family and recreation time, overreliance on social media for validation and connection, overstimulation from hundreds of news sources and outlets, and the nonstop interruption of technology in our daily lives. The added stress, fear, change and uncertainty in the wake of coronavirus came at a time when millions of Americans were already close to their psychological breaking points.
It is difficult to know the full range and scope of how the experience of a global pandemic will affect our long-term mental health and stability. Although humans are inherently resilient, the lasting impact of this new presentation of chaotic and complicated stress factors is further exacerbated by an unknown “end date.” While there are many estimates and predictions, no one can definitively say how long this new version of our lives will last. No one can tell us what we will look like as a society by the end of all this. While we are genetically programmed for adaptation and survival, prolonged instability and disorganization is extremely unsettling to the human psyche, governed by a brain that desires predictability and a sense of control.
The impact of chronic threat and insecurity can present in many different ways. We may find that we are not digesting food as well. We can’t settle down. We start forgetting things, not being able to focus and concentrate. We start to feel increasingly irritable, hypervigilant, afraid, overwhelmed, or exhausted. We worry incessantly about what the future is going to look like. Our nervous system gets stuck in survival mode (fight-or-flight) and we feel on edge all the time. We can’t sleep. Our thoughts are racing.
While anxiety originates as an adaptive survival mechanism, the persistent experience of it can quickly become debilitating. The chronic presence of the stress response can leave a person feeling physically unwell, emotionally unstable and mentally drained. If left untreated for a significant period of time, there is further potential for this prolonged hyperarousal state to lead to an evolution of depressive symptoms such as apathy, lack of motivation, loss of interest in activities, hopelessness and fatigue. Essentially, our body and brain can become overwhelmed by the persistent compilation of all the stress factors in our life, and can then get stuck in panic mode (anxiety) or shutdown mode (depression).
If any of this resonates with you, now is the time to take control before you find things are out of control. Telehealth has made accessing a psychotherapist so much easier, and hopefully maintains continued approval through your health insurance provider. Yoga, meditation, breathwork and mindfulness practices are also extremely beneficial and healing for those struggling with mental health issues. These modalities help to calm an overactive nervous system, restore physiological balance, release holding patterns of tension, and promote a sense of peace and well-being.
Sarah R. Memoli is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Registered Yoga Teacher and Certified Clinical Trauma Professional. She offers Yoga for Anxiety classes at the heal (v.) studio, located at 1019 Waterman Ave., East Providence. For more information or to register for classes, visit HolisticTherapyRI.com.