As a psychologist who treats anxiety daily, I’ve been in a distinctive position during the pandemic. I can very clearly see the difference the last two years have had on individuals, families, and society, as a whole.
Right now, our Children’s Center is overflowing with kids. They’ve been struggling through losing personal time with friends and peers. They have had to adapt to online learning and the disruption of their routines – and it shows.
We are also seeing many more adults in our Anxiety Center. The family/children aspect is a big concern for parents right now. They are very worried about their kids (the schools are, too). Adults are not only trying to help their children, they are also juggling lost incomes, supporting kids who are learning virtually, and coming to terms with relationship challenges, not to mention the illness or loss of loved ones.
When the pandemic started, I told colleagues that this virus would have two parts to it. The first and most apparent part would be the medical aspect, since we knew some people would get sick from it.
The second part, however, was the mental aspect. There was no doubt that every one of us would be affected by the pandemic in some way. Maybe we would personally contract the virus. Maybe we’d lose a job or a loved one. We had the stress of shut downs and the upending of our normal lives. Even if we have somehow managed to escape the virus’ direct impact, we have become aware of this bigger force looming over and all around us, over which we have no control.
Pandemic Trauma Effects
The pandemic is malignant. It is malicious, evil, and malevolent. The virus infects without regard. It sickens or kills the old, the young, the rich, and the poor. Knowing this does not sit well with us.
Humans have an inherent coping mechanism that helps us distance ourselves from a traumatic event. We may feel sad or upset about a tragedy, but we can still go on with our day-to-day lives. But, this pandemic is so big and so menacing, we find it impossible to ignore.
In my opinion, one of the best stories ever written about life and how we ultimately deal with tragedy’s fallout is the Wizard of Oz
. In the story, the malignant force is the wicked witch. Dorothy can’t defeat her on her own. She needs the wizard to protect her from the witch and send her back to her normal world.
After many challenges, she learns there is no all-powerful wizard. He’s simply a man hiding behind a curtain. All seems lost. She has to manage on her own. Like Dorothy, we are on our own as we try to cope with the mayhem brought by the pandemic, both as individuals and as a society.
When we entered this crisis, we were relying on authority figures (our governmental leaders, the CDC, the World Health Organization, etc.) to help get us through a new unknown, but this hasn’t turned out as well as we’d hoped. The problem is that humans have dependency needs. As children, we relied on our parents to keep us safe. Today, our needs are not being met by those in authority.
No Escape From Covid Stress
We don’t feel safe. We are fearful, so some have begun to lash out at other targets. Often, they find them in fellow sufferers.
Here’s why. If you were lost in the forest, you wouldn’t want to be alone. You’d want to be with others. But if you were in a group that couldn’t find their way out of the woods within a reasonable time, the members would start turning on one another. “It’s your fault we didn’t turn left, instead of right,” someone might accuse. It wouldn’t take long for the group to begin fighting amongst themselves. People would start doing their own thing in an effort to gain a measure of control of the situation.
This analogy is being reflected in the infighting we’re seeing amongst ourselves lately. Sadly, this will likely continue to be a long term situation as we emerge from the pandemic. We won’t suffer as much from the medical aspect of the virus anymore, but we will continue to feel the effects of the societal and psychological factors that have resulted from it.
I can’t stress enough how essential it is to stop watching and reading the news. These reports are almost always shocking, negative, and upsetting. This is not good for your emotional health. Dealing with so much trauma in the news and in our personal lives creates chronic stress and disillusionment. This is very much like the battle fatigue that military personnel encounter during a war. It wears you down.
In this case, however, we have no battlefield to come off of. We literally have no escape.
Knowing this only adds to the anxiety, mental fatigue, apathy, and depression the world is dealing with. As in my forest analogy, since it seems that no authority figure can make things better, some people become defiant. As a result, we hear about fights on airplanes, trucker blockades, protests against vaccine mandates, and mask and vaccine refusals.
Resiliency And Moving Forward
There is no easy answer for managing the emotional stress of the past two years. As the pandemic recedes and we move forward, however, our built-in resiliency will help us bounce back. People can basically recover from anything. I have seen them do so over and over during my past three decades as a practicing psychologist.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be long term negatives from the pandemic or that we’ll develop amnesia about what happened. Without a doubt, some people will come out of this feeling kinder towards each other, while some will feel more selfish, entitled, and rebellious. Nature has a way of correcting itself, however. Just as a pendulum swings back and forth, the anger will swing back to the gentler side. I believe that our innate nature to help each other will help all of us cope as we move forward.
We must take care of ourselves as the pandemic drags on. Already, many people have begun to reevaulate their priorities. This has led to The Great Reset we’ve been hearing about. We’re deciding what is important to us. We yearn for something meaningful in our lives, something better – whether it is a new career, a new relationship, or a new hobby.
So, I encourage you to take the time to do the things that make you happy. Spend time with family. Take a deep look inside yourself to figure out what you want going forward. Take what has happened and learn from it.
Become more spiritual in a way that is meaningful to you. Be more aware of time and how quickly it passes: use your time well. Go out and live, but don’t be irresponsible. Instead, use this experience to make your life meaningful.
Remember that the Japanese symbol for “crisis” is the same as the symbol for “opportunity.” So, find your opportunity and turn this crisis into something positive!
If You Are Struggling…
We can help. Whatever the difficulties you are facing, we are here to listen and offer effective solutions. For more information, contact us
or call the Children’s Center today at 561-223-6568
About Andrew Rosen PH.D., ABPP, FAACP
Dr. Andrew Rosen received his doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Hofstra University in New York in 1975 and completed an additional six years of psychotherapeutic and psychoanalytic training at the Gordon Derner Institute in New York, where he earned his certification as a psychoanalyst in 1983. In 1984, Dr. Rosen founded the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida, where he continues to serve as Director and to work as a board-certified, licensed psychologist providing in-person and telehealth treatment options.
Dr. Rosen is Board Certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). He is also a Clinical Fellow of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) and a Diplomate and Fellow in the American Academy of Clinical Psychology (FAACP). He is an active member of the American Psychological Association (APA), the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology, the Florida Psychological Association (FPA), and the Adelphi Society for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. Dr. Rosen was appointed a Clinical Affiliate Assistant Professor at the FAU College of Medicine in November, 2021. He is a Board Member of the National Social Anxiety Center. He has previously served as president of both the Palm Beach County Psychological Society and the Anxiety Disorders Association of Florida.