Suzanne Dennison DCS., RP (cert)OAMHP
Registered Psychotherapist - Clinical Supervisor
Individual, Marriage and Family Therapy
Past-President, Ontario Association of Mental Health Professionals (OAMHP)
Welcome - as we look around at the beauty of the falling snow and recognize the warm weather is leaving us for a while, we sigh with the knowledge that it has been about nine months since COVID-19 took hold in North America.
Consider if you will for a moment the challenges faced as we continue to work to bring some order to the confusion and uncertainty created by COVID-19. Initially with the ‘stay home, stay safe’ orders we, along with the rest of the world, watched in disbelief. Some around us were furloughed, others laid off and the rest quite simply frightened and often overwhelmed. Those of us deemed essential services, were at times, and may well continue to be, understaffed and working long hours. This has been true for many helping professionals regardless of their roles and though we may be less fearful now, we are all exhausted by the effort involved.
Since the onset of COVID-19 there has been talk of an ECHO pandemic. It sounded as though this represented the mental health fallout we would see once the chaos of the pandemic itself began to dissipate. The ECHO pandemic however is here now and has been for a while. Sadly, I believe the mental health effects we are experiencing have only barely begun and will continue to be challenging.
The ECHO pandemic is about the underlying anxiety and stressors that exist for all of us. What we are experiencing right now is part of the norm. Anxiety is a normal response to chaos and trying to deny or ignore it is also commonplace. Those who continue to work appear to be fine yet are often slowly paying a price for their efforts. We refer to such people, ourselves included, as the ‘walking well.’
Late last spring about twelve weeks in, the sun shone, it got warm and we had a brief reprieve. We could be outside and feel safe. Unfortunately, the spike is back along with the exhaustion and we all have ‘COVID fatigue.’ The inability to feel rested and peaceful or to take a break.
Last week a colleague added the phrase, ‘COVID annoyed’ to better define the increasing irritability and lack of patience that we normally would have with those we are close to. We are ‘bone-tired’ right now and unable to get away … where would we even go? And yet we keep going and we know we will get through this. So how are we managing? What can we do better? How might we make it all a bit easier?
Helping professions often talk about the need for self-care and self-compassion and while this is important there are no hard and fast instructions on how to do this. Each one us must find our own way to stop and recharge. There are however some simple rules that might prove helpful to consider:
Remind yourself that life can be both simple and complicated or someplace in between. Aside from safety concerns, there is no clear right or wrong just what works best for you and those you care for.
Adjust your expectations even a little and you will likely find yourself more accepting and far less stressed. Focus on getting through today and when regular tasks feel overwhelming think about how to break them into smaller bits to better manage.
Practice patience with those around you and with yourself. Most of us in the pandemic are irritable and often not sleeping well. In times of challenge we are often more critical and judgmental of ourselves as well. Cut everyone some slack and let some things go.
Do something kind for someone every day. It need not be a big thing just a gesture and you will both feel better for it. It can be something as easy as waving to the neighbor you pass on the street or checking in with others to see if you can bring them something when you get up to get a coffee.
Move. So many of us are glued to our desks and workspaces and if not at work then afterwards as we connect virtually. The gyms may be closed but movement is still allowed. Go out for a walk. Turn on some music and dance. Find the best yoga lesson on-line. What it is does not really matter. What does matter is that you try to do something.
Learn to be mindful. If you practice this already you will likely find it helps and if you do not, then ask around for some simple exercises so you might learn how to stay in the moment. It is a great antidote for anxiety.
Society’s helpers are often the last to seek professional help even when they have access to programs and the health coverage to do so. Remember it is okay to use the support of others at times. Do not suffer in silence. This pandemic is taking a toll on all of us and right now, our community is COVID fatigued. For now, take just a few moments out of every day to try to be thoughtful and kind as we all make our way forward. We will come out the other side.
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