One Year Anniversary of COVID-19: Reflections of a Therapist

Can you believe it has been one year since providing therapy exclusively through telehealth? Pandemic shutdowns have drastically altered our way of life. It has also had a major impact on mental health as 2020 was a year of big emotions and significant life-changing events.

Last Spring, pandemic-related anxiety was overwhelming as individuals were transitioning to work from home, figuring out how to share space, do distance learning, and keep themselves and others safe. Organizing, board-games/ puzzles, and Zoom social events lost their appeal as the months went on. Many people were feeling an increased sense of social isolation, depression, and anxiety. College students were moving back home. Dating and social life changed. While some families were feeling increased tension, others were enjoying the relaxed pace with decreased obligations.

Holidays were being celebrated within immediate households and ambiguous grief was felt. Loss was a theme interwoven within our families, communities, and nation. In May 2020, at least 4 out of 5 American’s mental health was being impacted by COVID. Our essential and frontline workers were amid it all.

The killing of George Floyd sparked raw emotions, visceral responses, and a call for action. There were peaceful protests as well as riots that left destruction. Trauma was being experienced within the body and mind. Therapy provided a space to process anger, fear/ anxiety, hypervigilance, hopelessness/ despair, and sleepless night. Psychological distress to disturbing content, including replaying of images ignited trauma triggers, especially for those who have experienced racism, police brutality, and trauma. This was a time for difficult conversations about systemic racism and White privilege–a reckoning for justice and social change. Individuals were seeking a safe space to process mixed emotions, including White guilt and the desire to be do more and become advocates/ allies for social change for the Black community, and the greater BIPOC community.

It was stressful, even dangerous being in quarantine during a time intimate partner violence, substance misuse, and mental health concerns were at an all-time high. While the summer months offered more opportunities to be outdoors, there was also adjustment to the disappointments due to changes with restrictions on travel and celebrations of milestone events. Individuals got creative with alternative ways to still celebrate, including prom and graduations.

The upcoming presidential election triggered new wave of emotions as many families experienced tension with family and friends with differing viewpoints about Black Lives Matter and political beliefs. Individuals were experiencing anxiety, panic attacks, and in some cases heart attacks with stress. Not feeling physically or emotionally safe was experienced by individuals within the BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ community, especially leading up to the election results. Many individuals were feeling more hopeful before the long, cold, and socially isolating winter set in. Depression and loneliness were common themes.

While many people are starting to adjust to the “new normal” of the pandemic and get vaccinated, there are still many uncertainties as schools, businesses, and entertainment venues begin to open. There are decisions about return to in-person activities, what it will be like to finally meet again in person. There are concerns about future outcomes and the implications of decisions. It is a balance of having time to reflect on the past and plan for the future, while live in the present. The last year has given us much to reflect. Within the pain and suffering, there is room for hope, growth, and renewal.

“We are powerful because we have survived, and that it what it is all about- survival and growth.” –Audre Lorde.

Written By: Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC

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