Overwhelming economic and social pressure
The pandemic has turned out world upside down. What is normal anymore? Increased social and economic stressors have put pressures on decades of mounting, and often unspoken inequalities. The country is polarized between rugged individualism and the values of social and community support. Where is the distinction between disinformation and freedom of speech? How does one stay informed, utilize critical thinking, and also continue to engage in a meaningful life. And on a practical level how do we continue coping with stress and anxiety?
These are some of the big existential questions that we are all facing right now.
I have seen increased loneliness, increased anxiety, and increased symptoms of depression from my clients. We have found connection through Zoom to the best of our ability, grateful for access to that technology.
Fear of the Unknown and Othering
However, I have also an increased of agoraphobic and OCD symptoms as well. The pandemic situation has increased questions revolving around risk factors and reasonable decision making. The past year has highlighted that there are always many unknowns in life. The several year long upset to normal routines, education, and celebrations have made it more difficult for coping with stress and anxiety.
With regards to othering, this relates to the archetype of the stranger. Unconsciously, emotions play on instinctual fears, making it easy to trust those you know, and assume that people outside of your circle of family and friends (your tribe) are the “strangers with the virus,” in other words, the danger. This tendency leads to relaxation of guidelines with people you know, and blame casting to those who you don’t know. An example of this is how sensational and polarizing the media can be.
My rule of thumb is any time media portrays a binary polarization, both sides are guilty of the same judgement somehow unconsciously. It’s the adage of, “if you point the finger at someone, you’re pointing 2 fingers back at yourself.” This is a complex concept.
If you’re interested in pursuing more of this type of inquiry into symbolic and integral thinking, I recommend Jonathan Pageau’s Youtube channel. Some of his videos include subjects such as masks a veils, postmodernism as a virus, the nature of protest, plagues, fairy tales and vaccines, etc. I digress.
So what are we supposed to do for coping with stress and anxiety?
Of course there is, unfortunately, no easy answer to this question. Like in any situation the best way to cope is through moderation. First, consider how much time you want to spend keeping informed. If reading and researching the news becomes obsessive, it probably is no longer a healthy coping strategy. Ask yourself if you’re engaging critical thinking skills and thinking logically or if you are stuck in a game of “what if” and paranoia? Have you taken reasonable steps to do what you can to protect yourself?
Everyone has to make their decisions to the best of their ability. Therefore, discerning what is logical and reasonable and what is based on fear of controlling the unknown is necessary.
Forgetting how to people
As a healthcare professional, I received my 2nd vaccine dose at the beginning of February. However, due to lack of information and wanting to keep the rest of my family safe, I didn’t venture out socially until recently. I found being around other groups of people talking and interacting was overwhelming. It was like my social skills were an atrophied muscle that had grown weak.
Likewise, anytime we do something different, it often feels disorienting. It takes a while to get used to things again. Therefore, my best advice on this is to lean in. Tell others around you what you are feeling so that they understand that you are not judging them or disengaged, but overwhelmed. Finally, vulnerability can build bridges and provide you more support from others.
Adapting to a Moving Target
The only constant is change. Life will always throw another curve ball. Building resiliency, adapting through new coping skills, and cultivating vulnerability builds strength for the next challenge.
Consequently, I am adapting my practice to now seeing individuals in person again in my office. Likewise, I follow CDC guidelines and disinfect surfaces and art materials with hospital grade disinfectant.
The best we can do is the best we can do. At some point, you have to say, “I’ve done the most I could do to the best of my ability for today, and that is enough.” In closing, one of my favorite adages, I learned from Flylady, “progress not perfection.” Strive to practice kindness toward yourself and others.
If you’re interesting in working on reducing anxiety or irrational fears, or if you want to increase your ability to cope and treat yourself with kindness, art therapy can help. Reach out if you’d like to discuss how art therapy might help support you.
Maggi is a registered art therapist at Columbus Art Therapy who assists their clients to discover more of themselves through dream interpretation, art therapy, and depth psychotherapy. They specialize in working with grief and loss as well as gender exploration. Click the button below to get connected.