PULSE MAGAZINE Volume 15 Issue 4

Page 36

ELLYSE GIVENS I never thought it was possible to feel so overwhelmingly lost in the confines of my own bedroom. My quarantine experience has been defined by illusions of comfort in the form of distractions, like school assignments, exercise classes, runs, movies--those delightful periods of time in which I forget about the coronavirus and the tragedies transpiring outside of my window. And then, it all comes flooding back. Death tolls plastered in large fonts on my phone. Tiny red circles slowly expanding and spreading atop a digital outline of the United States like a cruel rash. The uncertainty of what exactly postpandemic life will be like, whether or not the pillars of our everyday lives and interactions will be deemed fictitious concepts of the past. The anxiety can seem inescapable. There is such a significant, yet undeniably necessary, emphasis on our physical health and sanitation, which makes it easy to overlook the formidable mental health crisis that may be unfolding concurrently. The concept of mental health during this pandemic is unique: it is no longer coping solely with personal struggles. It is now also fused with a chronic feeling of heaviness blanketing us everyday-sometimes manageable, and sometimes not at all. Becky Stuempfig, a Licensed Family and Marriage Therapist with a private practice in Encinitas, says that the concept most closely resembling this ‘heaviness’ we are experiencing is, in fact, grief. “Globally, people are moving


in and out of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. On any given day, they may move in and out of all of these stages, as their psyches struggle to make sense of the world.” She foresees there will be a monumental increase in the need for short and long term grief counseling, as well as other mental health services, in addition to increased rates of substance abuse, anxiety, and depression as a result of the pandemic and social

The concept of mental health during this pandemic is unique: it is no longer coping solely with personal struggles.. distancing orders. “There has not been anything remotely close to this unbelievable situation in my career nor my lifetime... the ripple effect on our global mental health is, sadly, going to be long-lasting, widespread, and nothing like we have ever experienced before,” Stuempfig says. And for the 43.8 million Americans who experience mental illness in a given year (National Alliance on Mental Illness), anxiety is not new, and the pandemic could have the ability to significantly exacerbate their pre-existing struggles. “Almost all of my clients are experiencing sleep difficulties and increases in worries and fear. People have so much on their minds right now. They are worried about their health, the future of their

education, their family’s health, their ability to care for their children if they were to become ill, the future of their jobs, and the health of the older members of their family,” Stuempfig states. And these fears can only appear more irrepressible when facing them alone: Stuempfig has noticed the exceptional difficulty of social distancing orders among her clients that live by themselves. “Many people are taking advantage of virtual gatherings, but most will agree that while it is a great option, it is not the same as having in-person connections where you can give and receive physical affection.” Moreover, conditions such as those within the realm of anxiety and mood disorders thrive and manifest within environments that appear uncontrollable. And now, as the pandemic continues to tighten its grip on the world, our surroundings are indeed out of control; fears that were labeled as irrational two months ago can no longer be considered as such. Stuempfig suspects that the acute awareness of germs and the limitation of exposure to others could be “extremely worrisome and trigger increases in unhealthy coping mechanisms” for someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder, such as obsessive compulsive disorder. For those recovering from depressive symptoms, there may be difficulty grappling with “the weight of so much uncertainty, isolation, loneliness and fear for what their future looks like. They may experience increased sleep difficulties, appetite disturbances,

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