Day after day, year after year we are exposed to the realities, and often horrors, of modern life through social media and 24-hour news cycles. There is a constant stream of voices and opinions coming at us all day. And now that we are living in the time of COVID-19, things have often felt worse. It’s gotten harder to tune things out, get out of bed, do the things you love with people you like, or make good on those life plans you had before the pandemic. I’ve struggled off and on through these years, and with the help of my therapist, family, and friends, I’ve managed to reset after mental health challenges. But after several recent conversations with multiple friends about mental health issues and the struggle to keep up, I reached out to two therapists to see why everything feels so hard and why we are all exhausted.
“People have a lot more fear around sickness or a lot of fear around what's going to happen to me [and] to my family,” April Lancit, licensened marriage and family therapist, of April Lancit & Associates says. “And I know a lot of Black and brown people lost significant amounts of family members.”
Years of living with COVID-19 has shifted things. According to the New York Times, we’ve seen the respatory virus wipe out 1.11 million people, and counting. The latest mutations are spreading unencumbered by public health efforts. Everyday folks are dying from it or becoming disabled by it. But if you walked outside, it’s as if it’s COVID-19 was just a fever dream. The federal government failed to act appropriately, timely, or honestly throughout the pandemic and now has adopted the narrative that it’s over. The Biden Administration plans to end the federal Public Health Emergency (PHE) for COVID-19, May 11, 2023.
“They’re also dealing with increasing grief [and] trauma,” Lancit says. If you lived in a city [you saw an] uptick in gun violence, and there was really no breathing room; no [break from] in-your-face racism and discrimination, unfairness, and disproportionate numbers around how many Black and brown bodies [were dealing] with illness compared to other races.”
The psychological toll of living in what feels like chronic upheaval left many of us trying to keep up with our responsibilities and trying to find our way back to a familiar routine.
“It definitely causes more anxiety, and since we are living in a time where everything is in your face every day, it makes it more difficult for people to use distraction as a coping skill,” Kiandra Daniels, MS, LMFT, at Color Wheel Therapy says. “People don’t want to put their phones down and don’t want to not know what’s happening in the world. [Something] happens and [it] is on social media in seconds or you watch the news, and you see everything that’s happening. If you’re not careful in taking breaks from those things, it can take a toll on you. It’s exhausting. [Then] you don’t want to do the things [you] would normally do.”
“No one has completely acknowledged that the time we've been living is a collective trauma,” Lancit says. “Everyone has been experiencing different levels of how the pandemic has impacted their [lives]. Black and brown people have been affected with complex struggles, on top of all the other elements that were happening. So not only were they dealing with the collective loss, but they’re also dealing with grief.”
The hits keep coming too. Americans are feeling the effects of living under faulty city and state governments. We’ve seen extreme climate change-related weather events. Torrential amounts of snow and rain, horrific fires decimating forests and communities, right alongside crumbling infrastructures across the nation. Mississippi, Texas, and other states and cities have had their water, electrical, and other infrastructures fail. Police violence has ramped up again. More horrific murders and human rights violations reported and shared via social media. More families and communities decimated by state sanctioned violence. We’ve watched violence and hostility toward Black women, Asian people, LGBTQIA+, Black people, women, children, and—well anyone who isn’t a white man increase. Reproductive justice and autonomy seem like an even more distant dream. Voting rights are under attack. Republicans are becoming increasingly more ghoulish, and Democrats still seem to believe they can negotiate with these people.
“It was predicted somewhat in the midst of the pandemic that we were going to have a mental health crisis,” Lancit says. “So that's kind of where we are right now. People are finally catching up with themselves.”
Which leads us back to the anxiety and depression. In the face of all these challenges, it can be very hard to want to participate in the day-to-day things that life demands of us. And that’s OK, but we still need to acknowledge what’s going on internally and address it.
“I say anxiety and depression for the psychological point of it, but you don’t have to actually have the symptoms of anxiety and depression to experience those things,” Daniels says. “[With] depression, people isolate, have a hard time getting out of bed, completing tasks, fatigue, maybe even irritable—which also shows up in Black people experiencing anxiety. We go back to these ideas that we are supposed to be strong Black [people]. It’s not always acceptable to admit I am angry about this, I am sad about this, I don’t feel like going to work today. All those things can be viewed in a negative light by society [when it comes] to us. Having the strength to admit I need a break, or I am not feeling this today. I am tired, exhausted, sad; whatever it is, just admitting to it will be the first step. Then sitting with it. Maybe not immediately trying to go back to, everything is OK, because no, you’re not OK and that’s fine.”
And that’s it in a nutshell. It’s OK to not be OK. There are things you can do to get better or alleviate the stress.
“Limiting some of the Google searches, the social media, the news, just leaning into yourself, and paying attention to yourself,” Lancit says. “[If] you are a person who has experienced a lot of tragedies or trauma, you have every reason to feel that way, you have every reason to feel like life may not be promised. And that requires actual work in therapy, where you can talk about all these losses, what it's making you feel, and how it's making you think about life. We can't predict when, why or how, but we know that there's certain things within our control.”
“And then using some coping skills,” Daniels says. “Doing something you enjoy, self-soothing or self-care activities. Talking to your support, going to therapy. Use the things that you like as coping skills. That’s literally what coping skills are.”
If you are thinking about starting therapy and would like to find a therapist from your community, there are a few resources to help you find one.
“Therapy for Black Girls, Inclusive Therapist, [which] is newer for POC and LGBTQ+ [people], and Psychology Today is also pretty good,” Daniels says. If you are new to therapy, find your top five, and then contact them all, talk to them, and see who fits you. You’re going to be shopping for therapist if you are new anyway. Even if that one [therapist] doesn’t work you are free to move on to someone else.”
Perdita Patrice is a Texas-based writer and documentary filmmaker. She enjoys live music, reading, and watching TV. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @perditapatrice