We All Need Each Other

There is nothing I can tell you about the Coronavirus that you don’t already know.  There are no recommendations, no information, advice or statistics that may surprise you. 

We have all heard it all.  We know the drill. 

I could reinforce how much most of us don’t like to wear masks.  However, I will add another dimension to this:  as a speech/language pathologist (a.k.a. speech therapist), the masks create another literal and figurative layer to the communication problems I work with. 

I can’t complain, however, I am not a health care hero on the front lines.  I am not saving any lives.  Those who are, are indeed wearing the mask, plus a face shield, plus gown, gloves, and all manner of PPE (personal protective equipment) that I do not have to wear. 

I only have to wear the mask, so for that, I am grateful. 

Greater than that, however, is this:  the forced isolation and the decrease in social activities has created an unnatural environment for human beings, because we are meant to stick together, not stay apart.  And, we are meant to see each other’s faces in full when talk in person.

I am not insinuating that the masks and social distancing, as well as the isolation and quarantines are not necessary, because they are.  I truly understand they are necessary right now, and perhaps for a long time to come. We all need to listen to the experts, and adhere to these guidelines.

I am suggesting strongly that, as a speech therapist, having had many years of experience with people with communication disorders, it is a struggle to fight their way out of the isolation that communication problems inevitably bring with them.  For 26 years, this part of my career has broken my heart.  Now, with the forced isolation, it breaks my heart for so many more people, not just those with communication problems.

To take a look around in public, the sight of many people wearing masks is a strange one indeed.   The sight of medical personnel in hospitals and clinics with their PPE enhances this otherworldly perception.

This is reality as we know it right now.  We must all do whatever we can to play our part.

But this can be hard, and I don’t mean that in the sense that you may not agree with the recommendations, and you may not like them.  It is hard in the sense that we are all living in a strange new world, and none of us know what the future holds. 

This creates stress that is unlike any other stress most of us have ever experienced. 

I am including myself in this. 

When I express to people who know me well that I feel an almost ever-present state of low-grade anxiety regarding the COVID world we live in, some people are surprised. 

“You seem so happy-go-lucky,” several of them have told me, as if I am immune to these kinds of feelings.  I tell them because I need someone to talk to about it, because I know they likely understand.  I reach out because I need to, because I need them to hear me, even if I may seem immune to this kind of stress and anxiety.

I am not, and you likely are not either.

So right here, right now, I am giving you permission to feel this new breed of stress and anxiety, and to find someone to talk to about it.  I have, and it has made all the difference.  And it will continue to make a difference with our mental—and physical—health.

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We all know that stress does not lie “out there,” it is within each of us according to our own personal perceptions of any potentially stressful situation. However, it is safe to say that the current state of our country and of the world is causing stress for most people.  In some shape or form, it is altering life as each of us knew it, and likely not in good ways. 

As we know, it is increasing social isolation.

Isolation, especially among older adults, poses an extremely high risk of increased stress.  In itself, isolation is not necessarily a negative thing. Some people do prefer to be alone, so this is not stress-inducing.  For most people, however, it is.  This loneliness causes stress, and this stress has been documented to lead to multiple health issues, including dementia, heart disease and stroke.  It also exponentially increases the risk of depression, which increases the risk of suicide.  It has been theorized that it may rival the risks posed by smoking, obesity and physical inactivity.

This brings some hard questions:

In the face of COVID isolation restrictions, how can we eliminate or decrease this stress? 

How can nursing homes and other long-term medical care facilities create a safe environment for visitors to decrease the isolation among this vulnerable group?

How can we connect seniors with others using technology if they are not technologically prepared with a computer or device, as well as the ability to understand how to use programs that allow them to connect?

Among younger adults, how can we return to some semblance of the normal social outings/social interactions we enjoy that is so important for our mental health, as well as our outlook on the future? 

Will we ever get to go to concerts or sporting events with hundreds/thousands of other people?

Is there hope for planning a trip for vacations?  They, too, are necessary for mental health.

What if I get sick with the virus?

There are no easy answers here.  But again, we are all in this together.  Most of us are feeling this pain.  Like I have done, I encourage anyone who is feeling significant stress to reach out and talk to someone about it.  Chances are they are feeling it too, even if they don’t say it.  The sooner we find ways to decrease the anxiety and stress, the less chance our physical health will be affected.

Besides reaching out to a friend or family member, who likely are the first contacts, it is important to consider a visit with your medical provider about this.  They should be aware of the impact this may be having on your physical health, and they may have medical solutions. 

Speaking with a trained counselor is a resource that should also be considered.

Ensure that you are doing all you can to take care of your physical health, including adequate sleep, water intake, good nutrition and regular exercise.  This will not only boost your mood, it will help keep your immune system at its best. 

It has been reported from many sources that alcohol intake has increased since this pandemic started, and overeating is another way some people choose to dull the pain. Be aware of these red flags, and if you think you may be abusing food or alcohol to decrease the pain, be sure to seek out help.   Most importantly, remember there is no shame in asking for help for these difficulties, or any others.

If you have loved ones who continue to be under increased isolation precautions due to advanced age or previous medical conditions, be aware that they may be silently suffering.  Reaching out to them with phone calls, handwritten cards and visits through the window may make all the difference for them.  If you have the technological skills, they may need help implementing avenues to video chat.  As a plus for you, doing these gestures for someone else may very well boost your level of optimism as well. 

Remember:  We are all in this together, and we all need each other.