How COVID-19 Has Warped Our Year

As 2020 winds down, it’s hard to not think about the optimism December 2019 held. This time last year there were holiday gatherings, Christmas bake sales and perhaps even people planning their New Year’s resolutions. What a time to be alive.

Lost track of time? You’re not alone.

Whether we like it or not, 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic threw any sense of routine into a tailspin. The concept of time may even feel a little lost on some. Remember Tiger King? That show hit Netflix in March of this year. Feels a lot longer ago, doesn’t it?

There may be a reason March 2020 seems like it was two years ago. Felix Ringel, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Durham University, claims that the crisis caused by COVID-19, “could be seen to deprive us of our ‘temporal agency’ – the ability to structure, manage and manipulate our experience of time.” 

COVID-19 volunteering impact

It’s hard to relate to time when you can’t make any future plans. The feeling of “unknowingness” brought on by the pandemic is just the latest addition to existing mental health disorders people may be experiencing.

Holiday blues

Is it the “winter blues” or something more?

This holiday season looks vastly different for most people and it can be difficult to navigate the multitude of emotional shifts caused by living in a year of uncertainty. Many people have had to alter or cancel their holiday plans, creating added distress on top of an already triggering time of year.

A study from National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) discovered that 64% of people with mental illness report holidays make their conditions worse. This year, people also have to cope with loneliness stemming from social distancing and the inability to see their loved ones. Or, if they have decided to go through with their holiday plans, the added anxiety of travelling during a pandemic.

With shorter days and longer nights, some people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which has been attributed to change in sunlight, among other depressive factors. Working from home all day certainly doesn’t help. In an article from Yale Medicine, Dr. Paul Desan, MD, PhD, raised concern for people experiencing SAD while also being nervous about COVID-19, “They will be indoors, and they won’t be exposed to the same amount of bright light.”

Pandemic stressors, compounded with existing mental health struggles, can make interacting with one another more difficult.

Maintaining relationships amidst a pandemic

As emotions change, or in some cases surge, it can be challenging to maintain relationships while social distancing. Some people haven’t seen loved ones or their community of support for several months, and that may not change for them until anxiety over the pandemic subsides.

Disaster psychologist and author Dr. Jamie Aten, PhD, stated in a blog for Psychology Today that, “During challenging times, it’s common for some of the people you need most to suddenly be nowhere to be found.” In the post, Dr. Aten shares tips to mitigate feelings of isolation which include reaching out, releasing some relationships, and reframing by perspective shifting.

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Frontline workers get anxious too

Those that seem to have had little to no respite from the chaos of the pandemic include frontline health workers. Some health professionals didn’t have the option to work from home. They went to work every day to help COVID-19 patients as hospitals around the country teemed with positive cases. For those that could provide telehealth services, they helped their patients from a safe distance which may not have always been easy.

NAMI partnered with #FirstRespondersFirst to highlight mental health among health care workers and public safety professionals. In an interview with Margarita Bertsos, psychiatrist Dr. Jessica Clemons shared how she has dealt with her own stress throughout the pandemic.

Dr. Clemons advises people to listen to their bodies, embrace imperfection, learn to “triage” (deciding what gets taken care of first), create an anti-stress routine, and try “acceptance coping.” Dr. Clemons also acknowledged that difficulty coping with the pandemic can be related to the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the challenges.

As the pandemic continues to progress, it’s important to show our gratitude to the people working tirelessly to keep us all safe. To the frontline workers, we see you and we appreciate you.