By Jennifer K. BauerIf the year 2020 feels like an endless river of woe, counselors like Caren Cox are on deck, helping people navigate the rapids.
“I think this is a line from a country song but, ‘every storm cloud eventually runs out of rain,’ Cox said. “2020 has certainly tested that.”
Mental health counselors are experiencing a wave of demand for services, Cox said. She’s seen it in her Moscow private practice and her work at a rural Gritman Medical Center clinic.
“People are pretty good about weathering the storm and anxiety of life but lately, it’s been a lot, on all levels,” she said.
Taking into account the common concerns people are bringing forward, Cox offered this list of advice for navigating the tide of emotions.
Focus on connecting with others.
Pandemic restrictions seriously altered people’s social lives, and some continue to isolate themselves for health reasons.
“That loss of connection has caused an enormous strain on people,” Cox said.
It is important for mental health to spend time with others, she said. Continue to reach out, whether it be through Facetime, text or getting together in person while physically distancing.
“We tend to be like, ‘I’m fine, I’ve got this,’ but I think the cumulative effect of all the things we’ve been facing lately are taking a toll. It’s OK to say, ‘I don’t have this.’ Reach out for their sake and yours. We all need each other.”
Avoid seeing the crisis as an insurmountable problem.
Whether the crisis is concern for health, social unrest or balancing work life with a back-to-school schedule, “people are feeling they can’t get past it,” Cox said. “Not one of these problems is insurmountable; all of them together make it seem like it is.”
Pick one thing and look for little, manageable ways to start chipping away at it, she said. Seek outside support, if needed.
“There’s a lot of support out there, community support and people around you.”
Develop problem-solving skills.
After you pick one thing to deal with, clearly identify the problem. Form a plan. Make an alternative plan. Implement the first plan. Be prepared with the alternate.
“Having an alternative plan is important. This is 2020 — we’re down to plan Q, we’re on roman numerals,” she said, laughing.
Accept and integrate change as a part of living.
“We don’t do change very well as a people. We like the status quo. We like things how they are, it’s comfortable; but that’s not living.”
Changes that are happening now are big and rapid, “but they are still changes, and we can handle them.”
Make realistic goals and move toward those goals.
Many of the events shaking up society are out of an individual’s control, which can lead to the feeling that everything is out of control.
“We find it calming when we can control the things around us,” said Cox.
People can feel in control by planning. For instance, one can control what time to get up in the morning. Someone could choose to get up 15 minutes earlier to take a longer shower, read a bit or have a cup of coffee and put the day in perspective.
We also can control what we let into our lives, Cox said. “How much time are we spending on social media? How much time are we isolating ourselves?”
If the things coming in boost positive feelings, they are worth maintaining.
Find a sense of purpose.
Control and purpose go together, Cox said. “So much that is going on is so large and immense, we cannot do anything about it.”
Reeling one’s perspective back into one’s own life can help. She often tells people, “It’s not what you want to do with your life, but who you want to be in your life.”
Is it more important to you to be successful in your career or to be a kind person? There is no right or wrong answer. It is up to the individual.
“Being a good partner, a good parent, a good friend, those are all important.”
Take care of yourself.
“It’s Impossible to take care of those around you at work or at home if you’re not taking care of yourself.”
It’s simple but so effective, said Cox. “Instead of saying, ‘What’s wrong in my life?’, ask ‘What is going right?”
However, depression can affect one’s ability to be optimistic, Cox noted. There’s a “fine line” between feeling overwhelmed and stressed and coping with depression and severe anxiety.
Several signs that indicate it could be time to reach out to a mental health hotline, professional counselor or doctor include: no longer feeling you can manage on your own, people around you begin noticing a difference and you are struggling to do the things you used to enjoy.
If you’ve been really struggling for more than two weeks, it may be time to seek additional help, Cox said.