Managing our mental health
By Susan Baldani
There’s no doubt that COVID-19 is having a negative effect on our mental health. Each day is filled with anxiety and stress over what the latest numbers will be and how our lives are going to be affected.
Here to help us navigate this new landscape and give us some tips on coping is Ellen Miller from Starting Point Therapy. Ellen, originally from Grosse Pointe, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in both Michigan and Illinois.
“It’s very rare that I have a session with somebody where COVID doesn’t come up because it’s impacting and touching people at all levels,” she says. “Everything that falls under the umbrella of things that can impact your mental health, COVID has a characteristic of that.”
Therefore, it’s important to be aware of how you’re dealing with uncertainty and stress. Some symptoms of depression, says Ellen, include self-isolation, negative talk, low motivation, and being hard pressed to find the positive in situations.
“It’s tricky, because with COVID, we’re saying to social distance, and not spend time with friends and family. Since staying distant is a symptom of depression, it’s hard to say what came first. For example, are you isolating because of COVID, or are you isolating because you’re feeling depressed or anxious. I would say that if people are feeling it’s hard to get through the day, hard to see the positives, and hard to be productive, it’s something to watch out for.
“However, I make it very clear to my clients that we want to set manageable expectations. We’re in a time of trauma and stress and anxiety, and limited human interactions, which are all things that get in the way of us being our best selves.”
Ellen says to manage expectations, but still be mindful of things that bring you joy, and things you can do that make you feel proud. If your form of self-care is to spend time with family and friends, continue to make that a priority, but in a way that keeps you safe and holds you accountable. So, if that means setting up Zoom meetings, or being able to safely socialize outside with masks, do it.
“If it’s fitness, and you can’t go to your favorite exercise classes, then try doing something like running or a different type of exercise that can still meet that need,” she says.
“Another really good tip for people to carry with them as they navigate COVID is that it’s not an either/or situation. It’s not ‘I’m great, everything is great, and I’m not affected’, or ‘Oh my gosh, this is the worst thing that’s ever happened.’ Yes, it is very challenging, but it’s both.”
Maybe, she says, it’s creating more opportunities for you to spend time with your family, or being grateful that you’re able to work. She wants people to hold on to the entire experience and not feel like they have to oscillate between both extremes, because that will also create a lot of stress.
Something that’s also prevalent, especially with younger people, says Ellen, is COVID guilt if they have either gotten it or have done something to put themselves or others at risk.
“I would say, when people feel guilt, is check your intentions,” she says. “Was your intention to hurt somebody, no, but could you hold yourself more accountable and not put yourself and others at risk, yes.
“It’s interesting to be in this field at this time because the world is a challenging place and mental health issues are definitely on the rise. But, it’s a great time for people to get connected with a mental health professional: it’s much easier to access care because of the availability of virtual sessions and insurance being great with coverage. From my point of view, as a clinician, holding sessions virtually has not made treatment less effective.”
So, don’t hesitate to reach our for support during these trying times. Help is just a click or phone call away.
Written for Grosse Pointe Lifestyle magazine in Michigan.