COVID Has Affected Our Mental (Relational) Health
I think by now we all know that the pandemic has affected the mental health of everyone worldwide. There has been an increase in mental health concerns worldwide but this blog will focus on thoughts about what is going on in the US.
The things I want to focus on is Relational Health and how the pandemic has impacted the idea of relational health in this country in our children and in our society in general. There has been an increase in substance use, in depressive symptoms, and in symptoms of anxiety. I think that there is a lot of information out there about “how stressful” the pandemic has been; people working from home tying to manage raising children and educating children. People losing jobs and being laid off as business struggled to survive. All this is true and makes sense, but why was it so hard and stressful and why have things continued to carry forward this way?
I think there is a lot of evidence to point to our relational health being impacted and not only that but an indicator that our relational health was not very good in the first place and that the additional weight of the pandemic may have stretched those deficits to its limits.
Since the 80’s and 90’s there has been such a push for individualization and doing your own things and doing what makes you happy, we have pushed to far and no longer can see that we are all connected and our individuality and our success cannot come at the cost of the people and the environment around us. We have been blinded to the fact that when we do not care about the people, environment. and community around us we end up poisoning ourselves and cutting ourselves off from opportunities for connection, safety, and growth. Our society has rewarded such disconnect with money and things; and that has led us to continue down this path.
From this perspective I think it is easy to why the pandemic stird up so many mental health challenges. At the base level when the pandemic began no one knew how dangerous COVID was it was killing people and we knew very little about how it was spreading and how to really protect ourselves from it. Except to stay away from other people. Other people became a signal, a cue of danger for us. I remember having a visceral response when I was walking down the side walk, trying to switch sides so I would have no contact with other people. Adding a physical cue of danger from my nervous system to any other person was a pretty common experience for people. Everyone other than “my people” became a cue of danger.
I wonder how that impacted the polarization of people during the pandemic but it really did seem to galvanize that belief that the other person is dangerous. I would love to explore this more and long-lasting effects of this, but I’m going to move on.
I think what I have seen the most is how it has really has strained relationships that were most likely already strained. If we look at what positive psychology says about happiness it would see we need 5 aspects active in our lives to have a sense of wellbeing (sustainable happiness): Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement. I would propose that all of these have to do with relational health. We know that if all of these things are active in a person’s life depressive symptoms and anxiety symptoms are reduced significantly. The problem I think with even this model is that it is too easy to be self-centered about some of these aspects and if we are talking about the COVID area many of these things were ripped away from people.
Starting to learn how to repair your relational health with yourself, your family and friends, with community and environment is the way back. But most people have little idea about how to do this. At The Therapeutic Workshop we have put together a PERMA worksheet to help our clients start to identify the things they need to re-engage with in their live and work to help people heal and grow healthy relationships with themselves, their partners, their families, their communities, and their environment to bring feelings of sadness, loneliness, anger, and anxiety to a much more manageable place.