If we stay strong, we can beat this seemingly endless virus

COVID-19 has created a mental health crisis the likes of which Paul Schoenfeld has never seen. What can we do to take care of ourselves and our families?

We’re living through hard times.

As we approach the second anniversary of COVID-19, most of us are experiencing disappointment, frustration, fear and anger over the perseverance of this nasty virus. We’re exhausted — tired of the unknowns, the rise and fall of cases, wearing masks, opening and closing of schools, and just the plain uncertainty of it all. Human beings like a portion of predictability in our lives. COVID has been a roller-coaster ride and we’re sick of all the ups and downs. We all want to go back to the solid ground of 2019 when we could live our lives without the fear of getting sick.

What I see, as a practicing psychologist, are scores of children and adults whose nervous systems are exhausted and depleted by the sustained stress of the pandemic. We’re all in the same boat, and from where I sit, it’s pretty leaky now.

Add to pandemic fatigue the ordinary stresses and strains of life — health problems, relationship tensions, aging, financial and work challenges — and we have the perfect storm for mental health crises.

At The Everett Clinic, we receive hundreds of referrals a month from our primary care providers for mental health treatment. It’s a tsunami wave of pain and suffering that I’ve never seen before in my 40-plus year career. I’ve delayed other projects to lend a helping hand to meet this demand. As a mental health provider, it’s all hands on deck.

So how can we take better care of ourselves and each other?

■ Take advantage of the tools to protect ourselves from COVID. Vaccination, boosters, smaller indoor gatherings, use of rapid COVID tests and masks help keep us safer. Pay attention to our state and local health department recommendations.

■ Roll up your sleeves. This winter may be daunting. Tighten your seat belt and be strong. I think of my mom who lived through the Great Depression. She had to go live with relatives because her parents didn’t have enough money to feed her. She lived through World War II taking care of my brother when my father was overseas. As an adult, she had a core of steel. Like one of our mighty Douglas firs, she could be shaken by a strong wind but not knocked down.

■ Take better care of yourself. Now, more than ever, self-care is essential for keeping our nervous systems in better shape. Put on your rain gear and get outside — walk, jump, skip or run. We live in a beautiful landscape to soak up the natural world. It’s time to put away comfort food and alcohol that marked the first year of COVID. Put healthy food back on the table. Listen to music, read good books, breathe, rest and dance. Take a break from binge watching Netflix. Take an online or in-person yoga class. Exercise. Go to the mountains or the seashore. Hike.

■ Breathe. Meditate. Rest. There is an excellent book titled “Breath: The new science of a lost art” by James Nestor that teaches us how our breath can bring release, relief, and relaxation. There are numerous meditation apps that can help us stop and be present. Turn off your email, smart phone and screens and listen to the soft sound of rain. Cultivate calm.

Be strong. We will beat this virus.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www. everettclinic.com/ healthwellness-library.html.

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