Penn Live | Patriot-News
By Michael T. Flaherty and Kenneth S. Thompson
Today we live in a world full of anxiety and uncertainty. Beyond increasing political and social anxieties, we live with economic uncertainty, environmental concerns and a history making pandemic. According to a recent national poll by the American Psychiatric Association, most of us live with an expressed doubt about our future, 48% of us live with fear of getting coronavirus, 68% of us are fearful of a friend or loved one getting it, and 40% or nearly four in ten live daily with some fear of dying.
These stresses can be threats to our security, our personal health and survival. The prestigious McKinsey Global Institute has documented that related to these anxieties we are all exhibiting higher levels of personal stress, anxiety and depression. We now use more alcohol and other drugs, have increased demand for assistance to intervene in domestic abuse, have generated increases for child advocacy services and, perhaps saddest of all, have continued increases in overdose deaths and suicide. Some mental health professionals refer to these societal maladies as our “diseases of despair.” The COVID pandemic being but one type of continued social dis-ease. Political events today and social division another disease.
Considering the current pandemic, many choose to confine for safety. We have lost our safe personal space distance – now 6 feet minimum. We have diminished our social and family contacts, donned masks, become hyper-sensitive – even to small things. We have disrupted our sleep, eat for comfort, gain weight. Moreover, as disturbing numbers of hospitalizations grow daily, we are left to hold only to hope - or prayer- for the vaccine and a return to normal. It is a challenging time. Often referred to as the “dark winter of COVID”, for many, this virus filled time is the most challenging time of their life.
Further, our long-standing political division coupled with lawless and violent acts will also increase our stress and uncertainty. Resultant shock, sadness, anger and disbelief can only add to our stress in one form or another as further mental trauma and a toll yet to be taken. Moreover, stress reduces the effectiveness of our body’s immunity to physical illness.
So, what are we to do? How can we cope with these daily challenges? Are there ways our mental attitude, relationships, faith, actions and social support services can help to get us through this? If so, how?
This said, the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Leadership Council and Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society want to remind all that: 1) you are not alone– help is here; and 2) there are many things you can do to cope and to get through this challenging time.
Self-care is the first step for survival.
Have a plan for each day. Keep structure for yourself and your family. Keep time daily for restorative or self-renewing activities (e.g., reading, faith, play, hobbies, journal, exercise, conversation). A positive and balanced attitude strengthens our immunity to illness.
Limit negative influences. Control media that may upset you to just 20 minutes 2x day. Most media want to sell the sensational which is always emotional to the receiver. Limit negativity with focus and presence of mind to the constructive and positive in life. Have faith, and faith in that Faith.
Reach out to others. Do not be alone and if you know someone who is, check on them. Isolation and loneliness can be deadly. Connectivity is shared strength. Thank a store clerk or teacher. As Mark Twain noted, "Kindness is a language the Deaf can hear and the Blind can see." Test it out. Your mood will lift.
Remember too our children are living on screens today. All this stress is “felt” by them. Many schools have become “cyber.” As a result, children need more off-screen time. They are better now with more one and one interaction, more play and creativity, outside activities, being with friends even on screens and regular sleep. The guiding rule here is simple: as the parent’s attitude goes, generally, so goes the children. Parental health and attitude sustain your children’s health and attitude. Keep positive for them. Teachers also need to be alert today to those in their classes who may retreat from their normal ways.
Many times, self-care may not be enough. Do not be afraid to reach out to a neighbor, friend, pastor, community service agency, local police, medical or mental health professional. For those who need it, medication is available. Remember you are not alone in this. Hundreds of “self-help” meetings are now offered24/7 on the internet or via phone. Just google what you are seeking, e.g., “anxiety” or “Alcoholics Anonymous” and search a word “self-help” or “meeting.” Locally, beyond calling 911 or visiting a near-by emergency room, each county in our Commonwealth offers 24/7 access to mental health and substance use services. Again, do not be alone or afraid to call. Pennsylvania also offers24/7 helpline at 1-855-284-2496 (TTY: 724-631-5600) or just Text “PA” to 741741.These services can help immediately and to further connect you to a more local resource. There is also a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at1-800-273-TALK (8255) or for those speaking Spanish, 1-888-628-9454. And for veterans, there is also a special help line at 1-800-273-8255 or text to838255. Never be alone. Never let someone you are concerned about today be alone.
There is a lot we can do to survive today. Care is the thread by which we are all joined. It binds relationships, families and communities together. It sustains us - now and in the future. In the end, this virus and social division will be defeated because of our focused Care for one another.
Michael T. Flaherty, Ph.D.
Kenneth S. Thompson M.D.
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