RICHMOND, Virginia — May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and everyone's mental health was impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fourteen months into the pandemic and aspects of life are now slowly returning to pre-pandemic status. That, according to psychologists, has caused a variety of symptoms called "pandemic fatigue."
Nickie Brandenberger said she and her husband Mark have put so much emphasis on making sure their kids, Leah and Thomas, get through the ups and downs of the pandemic, she's sometimes forgotten about herself.
"I'm feeling very neglected in a lot of ways," Nickie admitted. "It's not as bad as it could be. But I think pain is relative and you have to sort of acknowledge that you're still struggling."
Clinical psychologist Dr. Meghan Rooney agreed.
She said many people are reporting a cluster of symptoms like sleeping more, depression, changes in eating or motivation, and worrying more or less than normal.
"Our bodies aren't meant to be in that state of alarm, for a long time, and what happens when your system is in that state of alarm, for a long time, is that we become exhausted and burned out and start having this cluster of symptoms that we're now referring to as pandemic fatigue," Dr. Rooney said.
Increasing resilience will help you get through tough times, she said. One way to do that is to reframe the pandemic as a challenge.
"We think of it as a threat," she said. "It evokes more of that alarm state and that fear state, and that makes us, again, like, just more irritable than we are if we see an event as a challenge."
Dr. Rooney said that makes a difference in how your whole body responds.
"It evokes a whole different set of responses, including hormones that actually make us calmer, relaxed," she said.
Another way to get you through this tough time is to remember struggles we've coped with previously, she said.
"It's really important to remember that it's not just about what if something bad happens, it's also remembering how well we have coped with difficult things in the past," she said. "What skills can we use? What strategies can we use to deal with it? Just knowing that, you know, we're often stronger than we think we are, we can deal with more than we think we can."
For Nickie, that meant more solo hikes through some of Virginia's natural wonders.
"I can feel that negative energy and lack of patience with simple things and I know I have to build in some time to get away and do something for a whole day. So that recharges me," she said.
Dr. Rooney said mindfulness activities like breathing exercises or mediation can help.
And if you think your symptoms are too much, seek help from your medical professional or a therapist. She recommends the site www.therapytoday.com.
If you or someone you know is experience mental or emotional challenges, there are numerous resources available:
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: 800-950-NAMI
- National Institute of Mental Health
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: 1-800-662-HELP
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK
- More resources can be found here