It’s been a busy few weeks for Aimee Daramus, PsyD, a psychologist in Chicago, IL, who specializes in anxiety, depression, and trauma. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, Dr. Daramus says her workload has increased by 25 percent.
At first, this increase came mostly from her regular patients who started to book more frequent appointments. “Some were done with therapy months ago, but symptoms came back up because of the increased stress,” Dr. Darasmus says. The wave of returning patients has slowed, but now she’s seeing more new clients who have never struggled with anxiety or depression before COVID-19.
There are, of course, plenty of reasons to be stressed, sad, and anxious right now—we’re living through a pandemic, which has placed an enormous mental burden on all of us. Many people are grieving the death of a loved one, or fighting off illness themselves. Others are coping with recent unemployment, financial uncertainty, or the fear of being laid off. And much of the country has been staying at home for upwards of two months, which can put a strain on relationships and mental health. Many of us have missed out on at least one important experience, like graduation or a family holiday.
All of that is to say…it’s completely understandable for people to struggle with their mental health right now. “This is totally a new world in a lot of ways… It’s going to define next generation or two,” says Dr. Daramus.
Dr. Daramus says that many of her patients are feeling anxious about when life will return to normal—and what “normal” will look like. “A lot people have anxiety about the future,” says Dr. Daramus. “There’s a lack of control and a lack of certainty about what to do because the situation is so new,” she says. People who’ve been laid off, for example, might worry that it’ll be really difficult to find other work. Before COVID-19, those fears might have seemed exaggerated. But these types of concerns have since become more realistic given the state of the U.S. economy and the unprecedented rates of unemployment.
It’s not just her patients who are feeling stressed by how up-in-the-air things feel. “I’ve been having a lot of calls with friends, and I’m lucky I haven’t lost anyone close to me yet. But there still is stress and uncertainty,” Dr. Darasmus says. Bigger-picture concerns, like not being able to make long-term plans, weigh on her. She also worries about the welfare of her patients; a rise in unemployment could mean clients lose their health insurance and thus struggle to pay for care.
Dr. Daramus says she also struggles to cope with stress and information overload. “COVID news is never-ending,” says she says, especially as our knowledge of the virus and how to combat it have evolved rapidly in the past few months. She tries to keep up with the latest research and is picky about sources, but even with those filters things can be overwhelming. “One of the hardest things now is to simply accept all the info we have about COVID itself is new and we don’t completely understand it,” she says.
As Dr. Daramus helps her patients navigate their worries and fears (and grapples with the added stress of her growing workload), she’s doing her best to maintain her own well-being. Her go-to stress reliever is exercise. Because she lives in downtown Chicago, she can’t exercise outside and maintain social distancing. Instead, she bought herself a new weight bench and has been strength training. “I love to work out. I’m lifting weights a lot harder. I’ve been meaning to for a while now,” she says.
She’s also found that her self-care needs have changed during quarantine. Dr. Daramus has personally been craving bright colors and flavors to break up the monotony of staying at home: She’s added spices like ginger and hot pepper to her recipes, bought bright yarn to knit, and recently ordered a bouquet of orange roses. “It’s not a color I’m usually attracted to, but at that moment it was exactly what I needed,” she says. She also sets aside time to empty her brain with frivolous activities. “I read silly novels or watch lighthearted movies. I don’t put pressure on myself to be productive every second,” she says.
Ultimately, we’re all struggling with a whole lot of uncertainties and few answers for now. Dr. Daramus stresses it’s important to lower your standards for yourself and recognize the small moments when you show resilience or strength. “Celebrating your successes is more important than ever,” she says.
Looking for other expert-backed mental health tips? Check out our Mental Wellness Challenge. Or download the Happy Not Perfect app on your phone for daily meditations and mental health tips; 50 percent of proceeds from new subscriptions in May will be donated to the National Council of Behavioral Health’s COVID-19 Relief Fund.
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