The Impact of The Pandemic on Our Mental Health

In the Houston area, like in many parts of the U.S., we began to feel the initial impact of the pandemic in the middle of March. Let’s sit with that for a second. It’s been five months since the first wave of shutdowns started and we still don’t see a return to “normal life”. You may have heard the phrase, “No single raindrop is responsible for the flood, but once it starts raining, it falls fast.” COVID-19 was no different. At first, we watched as other countries across the Atlantic Ocean dealt with staggering losses of life, then the reports of cases started popping up around us. Surely, it couldn’t happen to us some thought. Surely, we’re doomed were the thoughts of others. The rainfall of shutdowns, new cases, grocery stores stripped bare, and uncertainty came down with a torrential force. However, here we are five months later, still confused, trying to make sense of life, and at times gripping our mental armrests bracing for the new unknown the pandemic will bring. To begin exploring how to cope with the stress of the pandemic, we need “take inventory” as I often tell clients in therapy.

What We Lost

Grief and uncertainty are the keywords when it comes to loss. The most important loss we’ve had is of course the loss of all those who died due to COVID-19. Even if you have not lost someone directly, when we see the tally numbers from sources such as Johns Hopkins University & Medicine we can’t forget that each number is tied to a name, a face, and countless family members who felt the weight of that loss. In less tangible forms, we’ve lost a sense of perceived certainty that we had about life. What we once begrudged as the monotony of daily life; we now realize was a core pillar that kept us stable in rough times. The same can be said about the unknown luxuries we previously had access to. The opportunities to shop, eat, drink, and frankly just socialize now have to be carefully curated to avoid contagion or simply avoided all together due to business shutdowns. Additionally, there are those who now face financial insecurity and are having to navigate complex aid programs either at the local, state, or federal level.

What We Gained

You may have read the subheading for this section and rolled your eyes. I don’t blame you; in times of loss the thought of any positive items in our emotional inventory seems ridiculous, but they are there! With loss comes renewed appreciation for the small things we once took for granted. Our awareness of the unknown fortitude that lay inside of us has grown considerably. In therapy, many clients often feel they cannot endure the weight of their issues, but as the sessions pass they find themselves still here, still fighting, still trying. Strength is as inextricably tied to grief as pain is.

Learning to Let Go

Loss demands that we learn new ways of moving forward, but how do we do it? The journey of moving on and letting go is complex in that it’s not about “getting over it”. Letting go may mean letting go of the expectations we had of ourselves. We tend to think that we should deal with things better than we are, but this pandemic is unknown and new to all of us and the unknown often teaches us that our usual tricks of coping may not work as effectively. Therapists never promise to have the answers to life’s problems, but we do use our clinical knowledge to engage with you in the revolving door of rediscovery. Therapy creates a safe, neutral space to take inventory and start of the process of unpacking complicated issues. If you find yourself struggling to cope with the impact of the pandemic, give yourself the opportunity to be listened to, to learn, and eventually to let go and create something new for yourself.

Written By: Jorge L. Mendoza, M.Ed., LPC