Part 1 of 3 Here we are, almost 3 years post the COVID-19 virus pandemic that shut down our world instantly and has kept us in a state of uncertainty about many of the parts of life that we took for granted. We lost our freedom to leave our homes, interact with others and move around our community and environment without worrying about catching a virus that had the potential to be deadly. We all experienced a large scale and collective level of feeling nervous, worried, and scared about the present, the future, our health, and the health of others. We also worried about the availability of basics such as food and toilet paper.
Let’s start with the definition of a pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) definition is “a worldwide spread of a disease” with the COVID-19 pandemic being our 21st pandemic (Pitlik, 2020). Due to the speed of the spread of the virus, it was believed that the way to contain and confine was to shut down and create isolation. Humans are social creatures and in need of interaction with others on a consistent basis. The rise of a “virtual” world allowed for many to keep their jobs and for education to seemingly continue. However, the short-term and long-term effects of isolation have created havoc on our mental health.
During this time, anxiety set in for many. Dictionary.com defines anxiety as the following: “an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt of one’s capacity to cope with it.” It is also defined as an “apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness usually over an impending or anticipated ill.” Anxiety is at an all-time high leaving mental health providers with waitlists.
How is Anxiety Manifesting Itself Presently?
Many of our children, teens, and young adults are still avoiding school, social situations, or participating as members of a team for a sport or activity. What can be heartbreaking for parents is that our children may have actively participated in these arenas pre-pandemic and did not know how to “re-enter” so many didn’t. They once had interests and now they seem to have few. Many of our kids have found a strong interest in video games because they don’t require face-to-face interaction and there is escape and submersion in a virtual and highly engaging electronic world. I have heard way too often from parents in my practice that their child or teen has very few “real” friends and friends from the video game domain; however, these friends don’t live locally making their interactions exist only in the virtual world.
Many of our kids found interest in more sedentary activities that have had the negative consequence of weight gain. Dr. Johnson, of the Johnson Center for Health, indicated that the quarantine change in lifestyle created weight gain; however, the long-term effect of the virus may have resulted in physiologically-based excessive hunger and increased appetite. This may have also created new, unhealthy habits where our kids ate due to boredom rather than due to hunger. In the long run, the change in eating habits has created a change in appearance and ease of movement that has further created avoidance for our children and teens to participate in school, socialization, sports, and activities.
For many of our teens and young adults, their friendships changed over the pandemic as there were varying levels of comfort in attending school or socializing which created a change in the social groups and friendships. Thus, our teens have had to create new friendships; however, the problem came to be when their peer group was small to begin with, and there weren’t other children with whom to create new friendships.
Hanging in High Mode
Many anxious people start their day with a high residual level of anxiety that runs in the background. As the day goes on, that level of anxiety continues to peak and wane as different situations are encountered that result in a feeling of “I can’t handle this,” or “This isn’t safe.” For a student in school, thoughts such as the following can heighten anxiety over the course of the day:
• I can’t solve these math problems.
• Everyone must think I’m so stupid for that answer I just gave.
• I can’t read this.
• I don’t know the answer to this test question.
• This is so much work – I can’t finish it.
• I should have done better on this quiz.
• I hope the teacher doesn’t call on me.
• She thinks my hair looks stupid.
And even when our children and teens have a moment or two where things in life are cruising along smoothly, they often sit with a high level of anxiety for fear of what’s to come. Many fear that if they let their guard down, they will be blind