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Coronavirus and Mental Health: Why It's Okay Not to Be Okay

Updated: Dec 15, 2022

It didn’t take long for my anxiety to ramp up after news of the COVID-19 outbreak started to hit. Every day, there was something new. The virus was here, people were dying. Stores were closing, people were being asked to stay home.

Should I go to the grocery store and stock up on essentials? By the time I realized that might be a good idea, the toilet paper was gone. Finding meat, toiletries, and shelf-stable goods has been hit or miss. I’ve yet to find toilet paper.

I fear for the elderly, who don’t have computers or know how to order from Amazon Pantry (when it even has food available). For those in rural areas who can’t get fresh groceries and are hours from a hospital.

For my friends who are nurses and doctors, on the front lines every day. For my grandparents, who say they’ve never experienced something like this. A sobering thought coming from those who’ve lived through several wars, recessions, and the tail end of the Great Depression.

And now, after a lifetime of hard work and kindness, our nation’s most vulnerable are closed up in nursing homes that are slowly being infiltrated by the virus. Imagine being locked in and fearing you’ll never again see the light of day. Imagine being the family members on the outside, helpless to do a thing to stop that from occurring? Perhaps you don’t have to imagine. These are the times we live in.

The fear mongers became soothsayers – people were dying, and suddenly unemployment numbers skyrocketed. People I’ve looked up to my entire life, whose 30-year tenures at solid companies have abruptly come to a halt, are now panicked, trying to find fresh fruit and apply for unemployment.

Some nights, I do okay. My husband and I cook dinner, put our daughter to bed, and watch a show on Netflix. Most of my content marketing clients have put work on hold due to the current economic uncertainty, so I’m spending most of my free time, even with the television in the background, packing in as much work as I can before all income streams cut off.

Other times, I spend the evening short of breath, unable to sleep despite exhaustion. I read the news, even though I've already seen it. I check that day's virus victim counts. I consume content about what to do, how we aren't doing enough, and how we all might die. I know I'm not alone in this new bedtime ritual.

I’ve been applying for loans and grants, and I’m grateful to be a business owner who qualifies for help from the CARES Act. Everyone I know trying to get unemployment through traditional avenues has been unable to get through for weeks.

And we are the lucky ones, with a pantry that was never empty, a big house in a suburban neighborhood. We have some savings and some credit cards, and we still have a bit of income and access to health care. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have no safety net, but especially in times like these.

Woman covering her face due to sadness
COVID-19 Has a Big Impact on Mental Health

In the United States, we live so far removed from the reality – at the end of the day, we are animals, vulnerable to disease and natural disaster and countless other forces beyond our control. Our society is so advanced, it’s easy to forget that everything could disappear in a matter of weeks. Without jobs, we cannot buy food. Without food, civilization as we know it begins to unravel.

Last night I spent hours trying to piece together the groceries I needed from several delivery services. Not only do I have direct contact with those in a vulnerable population, I am terrified of contracting COVID-19 myself. Young people are dying, too. And that means I’d like to avoid the grocery store for as long as possible.

Of course, the food you find online is hit or miss. In the time it took me to try to locate applesauce, the ramen noodles I found on Amazon Pantry disappeared from my cart. Toilet paper and hand soap were nowhere to be found. It’s in moments like these I can feel my anxiety rear its ugly head – this is real, it isn’t going away in the immediate future, and I’m scared.

Let’s face it. We’re all scared. We’re scared to die, scared to know our loved ones might die. We’re terrified to have no income, to have no food, to be unable to pay our rent. We’re lonely, isolated in our homes, some of us with very little contact with the outside world. Our mental health is suffering tremendously, as many of us struggle to face the grief that life as we know it is over, at least for now.

Because that’s what it is, right? We are all grieving. Some days are better than others, just as when a loved one dies. We’ve been thrown into a terrifying situation without warning and without prior experience to draw on. The very fabric of our society is disintegrating all around us, and we are still in shock. But with each passing day, we are beginning to understand. This is life for now. We don’t have any idea where we are headed. It probably isn’t going to be pleasant, but we don’t have a choice.

There are, of course, some bright spots in the midst of this confusion and pain. More time at home with our children. The opportunity to learn what we really need to get by. The mental space to revisit who we are, what matters to us, and what we want out of life. The chance to see and appreciate true human goodness as we watch so many of our friends and neighbors risk their lives for us every day.

Times of crisis can be divisive, and understandably so. The best thing we can do for ourselves and those around us is to take a deep breath and realize this, too, shall pass. It’s not worth hurting one another to win an argument or make a point. We are all going through enough.

So post a rainbow in your window, call your mom, and indulge in some self-care. If you’re struggling to cope, reach out and get help. There are countless resources for those who need them, and now is not the time to refuse help due to pride.

To weather this storm we must overcome our love of self-sufficiency and be willing to accept that we can’t do this on our own. One way or another, though, this global health and economic crisis will end. Control what you can and then let go. That’s all you can do.

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