With some COVID-19 restrictions lifted, some people continue to cope with great anxiety and fear about going out into a world where the coronavirus still poses a threat.
Michigan has gone from being a state with some of the largest numbers of coronavirus cases to a state that officials have said is on track to contain the virus. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has slowly begun to reopen the state, although she has indicated she may reverse course in the coming weeks as more cases are detected.
And while some people regard these gains in liberty as positive, others have coped and continue to cope with great anxiety and fear about going out into a world where the coronavirus still poses a threat.
Lori Kanat Edelson, LMSW, ACSW, a psychotherapist and owner of the Birmingham Maple Clinic in Troy, said she has seen about 60 to 65 percent of her clientele express anxiety over the fear of leaving what has essentially been an at-home lockdown. She said her clients felt shocked to go into a “bubble” but within a month seemed to become comfortable living within that bubble.
“Now … they are looking at all kinds of opportunities to emerge into the larger world. Knowing they have no control of how other people behave or take precautions scares them,” Edelson said. “Once you introduce options (of going out), then you start facing the fact that people have different reactions and philosophies of going out.”
Catherine Frank, M.D., chair of psychiatry and behavioral health services at Henry Ford Health System, said she and her mental health colleagues have counseled many people who are “very, very anxious.”
“Anxious as in fearful and anxious as in excited,” she said.
She qualifies this by saying that it’s normal to feel this way in such a tumultuous time.
“It’s important to realize anxiety doesn’t equal pathology,” she said. “These are anxiety-provoking times. There’s a whole continuum when it comes to anxiety.”
Nicole Pollack, MSW, CSW, a therapist with Beaumont Children’s Center, works with kids as young as 5 up through adolescents in high school. She said she has been unable to conduct her in-person group sessions with her young clients, but is staying in touch with them virtually. Although many of her kids don’t or can’t articulate exactly what they feel, she works with them to get in touch with how they are coping with the unknown.
“I work with a lot of my patients on self-awareness and self-care,” she said. “That helps to navigate these uncertain times.”
Pollack has listened to kids about the struggles they have faced while being at home and how hard home schooling has been on them and their parents. She said she knows that “a lot” of her young clientele were already socially isolated before the pandemic hit. She encourages them to talk about their feelings.
“We talk a lot about negative thought replacement,” she said. “I tell them, don’t focus on the unknown but focus on what you can control.”
All three therapists say there have been good things to come out of the last three months of the stay-at-home order, namely the fact that people have been forced to take a break from the daily grind, focus on family and pursue their own interests.
“Some people have actually appreciated the opportunity to slow down, get back to basics and spend time with their families or (spend time) alone and do things they like to do,” Edelson said. “Hopefully, people will learn to appreciate there are some very basic pleasures and basic relationships that are very important. Staying busy and distracted and having an overfilled social calendar is not as desirable as we thought they were.”
Pollack encourages her young patients and their parents to take advantage of the summer weather to get out and spend more time in nature.
“How many walks and bike rides do we take where we say afterwards, ‘That didn’t make me feel good?’” she said. “It’s important to get out, but to do it safely.”
Edelson advises people to respect their own feelings about where they go out now that restrictions are lifting.
“Listen to your heart and listen to what your common sense is telling you,” she said. “You have to find your own compass. While you may have to push yourself a little, you push yourself. You re-engage at a pace that is comfortable for you.”
Frank said that people need to educate themselves about the coronavirus and use their best judgment in what freedoms they take advantage of.
“Social distancing, I think, is an unfortunate choice of words,” she said. She prefers the term “physical distancing.”
“We don’t want people to social distance and lose touch with their families and friends,” she said. “Make informed decisions about where you should go or don’t go. There isn’t any evidence that everyone should stay at home and not do anything. It’s about the protection you use, the masks and the hand hygiene. Those are really important.”
The state of Michigan has established an online mental health portal called ‘Stay Well,” which lists a variety of resources for those coping with the emotional difficulties of staying safe during the pandemic. Visit Michigan.gov/StayWell.