Dealing with stress and anxiety during COVID-19, rising racial tensions and civil unrest

Jennifer Lawal, PLC-NCC

I still remember the rush, the smiles and the cheers as the clock struck midnight and we all greeted 2020 with a toast. For many Chicagoans, we had plans for this New Year to be the best yet. Remember, this was the year that marked the start of a new decade, and the world was optimistic about achieving great things.

But here we are, just halfway there, and by the time we realized we had failed to keep another New Years resolution, the year took a drastically different direction and left most of between us in crisis mode and feel like that. could be the worst year of your life. It’s safe to say that this is a far cry from the new way of life most of us had in mind, and whatever you planned probably didn’t happen.

Marriage to all your favorite people side by side, or you’re finally going on your first or tenth trip abroad, to get a new job, to graduate, your parent is 60; anyway, we all had to default on planes D and E, and had to adapt in a very painful and unlikely way.

It was meant to be the start of a new way of life, for everyone. The future looked bright, exciting, and full of untold potential until we were suddenly struck by a global pandemic (aka COVID-19) that none of us saw coming. Covid-19 is not just an abstract news event taking place in a remote part of the world, it is everywhere and has personally affected us and almost everyone we know.

Whether you live in the south, west, east or north of Chicago, there is one thing we can all agree on; that this year has brought for most of us significant economic, social, identity and emotional difficulties that could last a very long time. Frankly speaking, I don’t think anyone imagined a deadly virus spreading around the world by killing the elderly and hospitalizing the weak. However, the past six months have contained so many world-changing and paradigm-shifting developments that it becomes hard to believe that we are not in a simulation that runs all possible scenarios at once.

In addition to the pandemic and more than 150,000 lives and count lost in the United States, the 25e of the month of May, an African-American man named George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, sparking mass protests around the world and a long-running racial account. At the same time, millions of people across the country have been affected by unplanned unemployment, with unemployment rates higher among black and Hispanic workers compared to white workers.

The resurgence of anger over long-standing racism and racial inequalities has added to the anxiety and tension of the pandemic, creating a combustible scene of national civil unrest. But, sadly, there’s no time to use up: with a pandemic still raging, waves of social change swelling around the world, and a whole presidential campaign going on (yes, that’s still a thing ), there is still a lot of history to be done. be done in 2020.

While it’s hard to imagine that you’ll manage six more months, it’s important to look back and remember what you’ve already overcome and the resilience that lies within. The truth is, for all of us here at 2nd Story Counseling in Chicago, we feel pain. We understand and know that life is really tough right now.

The COVID-19 crisis has drastically changed everyday life, and now, with all the tensions in our society following the death of George Floyd, it can be a lot to deal with. Anxiety and stress can take over. Whether it’s racial tensions, civil unrest, pandemic, or economic hardship, many of us are probably feeling anxious, depressed and isolated right now. And we want to help you cope and bounce back.

Below are some simple and useful tips for maintaining well-being and ways to deal with anxiety and manage stress during a global pandemic and ongoing civil unrest.

  1. But, first… ACCEPTANCE.

Whereas protest thoughts like “This can’t happen!” may seem productive at first, because such thoughts make us feel like we are fighting an enemy, no enemy can be defeated by denial. Turning away from a problem doesn’t make the problem go away or change a situation, or make you feel better.

On the contrary, repetitive thoughts of protest prevent you from gaining greater self-awareness, thinking about ways to solve problems, and taking action. When engaged in a fight against an external threat like COVID-19, and calls for racial fairness and that all lives don’t matter as long as all people of color, more importantly again, black lives and black trans lives matter; acceptance can not only greatly reduce distress, it can literally make us more secure. For example, constantly struggling with reality prevents us from practicing behaviors that reduce the risk of infection, such as social distancing.

Once we accept that the crisis is happening, we are much more likely to engage in such potentially life-saving behaviors. Not to mention that acceptance is also powerful because it leads us to discover what we can control. Lack of control, fear and worry give way to anxiety. If we let go of trying to control the world or our automatic emotional responses, we can achieve more comfort and support through adaptive thinking, rather than a surviving state of anxiety associated with returning to “normal.”

  1. Give yourself permission to feel.

Much of 2020 has been a constant stream of emotional overload. Even with more than six months, you’re likely to experience emotions you didn’t know you had or emotions on a new level. Before the pandemic, more than 20% of Americans had symptoms of depression or anxiety, and researchers estimated that number had more than tripled since the start of the pandemic.

To be fair, the pandemic has triggered a climate of anxiety that has led many people to feel feelings of helplessness, uncertainty and loss. It is important to know that the anxiety, emotions and stress that you are feeling are very appropriate given the time in which we live. For some, coping with the stress of lockdown and isolation due to the pandemic seemed manageable. However; for others, civil unrest due to the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells, etc., and even the incident with Amy Cooper – all of these things were triggered for many. .

That said, there is nothing wrong with being gentle with yourself and giving yourself permission to honor all of your losses without allowing yourself to think, “This could be worse” or “others have worse.” It’s okay to be sad that you missed a planned vacation or to be upset that your gym is still closed even if others are risking their health and safety.

  1. Prioritize personal care

In the new age of endless zoom meetings and virtual sessions / lessons, anxiety and stress are high; therefore, it is important to pay attention to prioritize yourself. While this is easier said than done, and we all want to stay informed, limiting the time listening to pandemic news and participating in healthy, uplifting activities can empower and help reduce the ‘anxiety.

Since stress can impact many parts of our body and can cause shortness of breath, muscle pain and even fatigue; To avoid these side effects, it’s important to take care of your body by practicing deep breathing exercises, meditating, and reconnecting with nature whenever possible. It’s also important to engage in a lifestyle and routines that encourage resilience and a healthy work-home balance.

Finally, know that as humans we have a naturally resilient nature and can harness this innate ability to overcome adversity. Focusing on personal care and establishing healthy psychological habits can reduce negative stress reactions and help you adjust more easily to what post-pandemic normal will look like.

  1. Find and use your support

One of the first steps in knowing how to cope and cope with a deadly pandemic of this magnitude and recurring racial trauma is to first identify how these experiences impact you personally. Yes, everyone reacts differently to stressful situations, but the data shows that how you react to stress during the pandemic may depend on your background, the support of your family or friends, your financial situation, your health. and your emotional background, the community in which you live, and many other factors.

Finding and leaning on your primary support groups and caring for your friends and family can be a stress reliever. In times of increased social distancing, you can still maintain social connections by regularly making phone calls and video chats with members of your community.

Doing this can help you feel socially connected, less alone, or isolated. For people who have emotional reactions to persistent daily injustices, seeking support, spaces and communities that validate, those that will make you feel better and allow you to be vulnerable, can be helpful in relieving stress and l ‘anxiety.

  1. Talk to a therapist and be open

Finally, keep in mind that people with pre-existing mental health issues may react more strongly to stressful situations. Therefore, it is important to consider speaking to a therapist if you are feeling overwhelmed by your emotions and are relying on someone to help you understand your reactions.

Even though some of the symptoms or difficulties you are having right now may be explained by the unusual stress you are under, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be talking to someone. Talking to a therapist now can keep you from developing a full-blown mental health problem later, and can also help relieve some of the distress you are feeling.

Be open with your therapist about how you are feeling and about the past few months. As a therapist, maintaining your mental health and well-being is an important aspect of my job. So, while life is slowly returning to “normal,” you don’t have to wait until you have a serious problem to get help. The majority of our therapists here still offer virtual and in-person telehealth sessions to meet your emotional needs.


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