Heroics aren’t necessary. Doing your best is good enough!

By M. Christine Macbeth, ACSW, LICSW

Anxiety is contagious. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the level of depression and anxiety in our community (and literally everywhere in the world) is at an all-time high. People live in fear of contracting the virus for very good reasons. If the potential for severe illness isn’t bad enough, many are also struggling to make ends meet while others are coping with the almost impossible task of caring for children while trying to work from home.

Multi-generational families can’t help each other for fear of exposing older members to what can be a deadly illness. Thus, many of us are alone with our fears and anxiety, which only makes everything harder to bear. For most individuals and families, the pandemic has caused relentless, unprecedented daily stress.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has kept tabs on the state of the nation’s mental health since the beginning of the pandemic, has documented an interesting phenomenon. Through its Household Pulse Survey, the CDC has discovered that the rate of anxiety or depression among adults follows the rise and fall of the Covid-19 curve. As cases increased exponentially since September, the nation’s mental health has deteriorated.

The impact on children and adolescents is just as alarming. At the Brien Center, we’ve seen a significant increase in anxiety and depression among our youth. Their need to belong to peer groups – which is developmentally very important – is not being met. Jim Mucia, LICSW, division director of the Brien Center’s Child and Adolescent Services, noted that isolation and a lack of peer interaction is causing harm. “You can’t put kids in their rooms for nine months and expect anything good to come of it,” he said.

Some students are struggling with online learning, which necessarily involves a significant amount of self-learning and tasks. Kids who require more personal attention in the classroom can be lost on their own. We’ve also observed that an increased use in online gaming as a way to interact with other kids is disrupting normal routines and peer relationships. Since most of the “action” in gaming occurs late at night, sleep cycles are significantly altered, affecting daytime learning.

We find that parents are struggling to keep their children on task. Oppositional behavior, family fighting and, at times, violence and child abuse are on the increase.

So, what can be done? How can we find our way out of such difficult circumstances? We began this column by observing that anxiety is contagious – and it is. Yet, confidence is just as contagious, and we have reasons to be confident.

First, the coming vaccine offers a real sign of hope on the horizon. Despite the disappointment of a slower-than-expected rollout, state and federal leaders will soon smooth out the bumps and mass inoculations will shortly be underway. The pandemic will be behind us. It will take time for many to restore their financial stability – as well as a sense of “normalcy” about life again – but that will happen.

We must also have confidence in our ability to weather this very difficult storm. Perhaps we haven’t always faced the challenges as well as we would have liked. Daily heroics for such a long period of time are not sustainable. We’re all doing the best we can and some days are better than others. Give yourself a break. Things will get back to normal someday soon.
In the meantime, please find time to practice self-care. Eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising even just a little bit every day can help provide the resilience needed to get through the final months of the pandemic. Try to safely stay in touch with close friends and family to help ease the isolation. Often, just talking about the things that worry us the most helps to put our concerns in perspective and lighten our burdens.

Help is always available for those who feel that their anxiety and depression are too much to bear. The Brien Center has created telehealth options that enable us to effectively care for people in their own homes.

Right now, hope may feel illusive. Yet, our lives will be back on track soon. Do what you can to stay physically and mentally healthy, so that you are ready to meet better days ahead. You are more resilient than you realize!

M. Christine Macbeth, ACSW, LICSW, is President and CEO of the Brien Center