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the pandemic and mental health

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For most individuals, March of 2020 marked a total transformation in what their daily lives look like. How many plans were you looking forward to that were canceled? Do you recall the exact day or week when you stopped bothering to even communicate with others about whether or not certain plans were still on? Your calendar probably became useless and unused for months at one point.

Many went through the “Let’s sit and wait” period. It was just going to be two weeks, right? No special accommodations or plans needed to be made for a two-week hiatus. You stayed in, watched Netflix, cooked all your meals at home, and let your brain freeze in time, ready to unfreeze it after that two-week period.

Then, it became clear that this wouldn’t only last for two weeks, and hanging onto the hope that things could just resume as normal was unhealthy. You couldn’t say to your brain, “There, there. You don’t need to do any complex tasks right now. Just take a break until we resume our normal programming.” You came to learn, perhaps, that you’d need to completely change the way you looked at the future, and how you managed your time each day. Simply waiting was no longer an option – you had to get back to living, but differently. And that’s caused many to get to know themselves in a whole new light. We spoke with licensed psychologist Dr. Jessica Jackson (IG: dr_jlauren) about how this pandemic has led to some realizations about the self.

Dr. Jessica Jackson

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It’s not an identity crisis

When I first called Dr. Jackson about this piece, I brought up the idea of people having an identity crisis due to the pandemic. But, as I’m glad Dr. Jackson pointed out, it turns out it’s really not a crisis. “Sometimes we call something a ‘crisis’ as if it’s a bad thing. But we grow and evolve whether or not there’s a pandemic or crisis situation happening.”

the pandemic and mental health

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You’re just aware of the change

“Who I was at 20 is not going to be necessarily who I am at 30. Or who I was at 10.” Different circumstances, as well as the simple passing of time, cause us to change. What we’re feeling right now is just a hyper-awareness of that change. But it’s not a crisis, says Dr. Jackson. “Now we’re just more cognizant of changing.”

the pandemic and mental health

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You’re still you, don’t worry

“We’re having to get to know ourselves in a different way. For the past 15 years, when I coped with stress, I went on vacation or had dinner with my girlfriends. Or I would go for a run. That is not all possible right now. And so it feels like I don’t know myself but it’s because I’m having to learn myself in a different way. My coping strategies no longer work so I have to figure out what coping strategies I can use in this new space,” says Dr. Jackson.

the pandemic and mental health

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When options are limited, you can feel lost

If you find yourself sick of your usual pastimes and wondering if that means you’ve lost touch with yourself, you haven’t. “Like with anything, if we get too much of something, we don’t like it. So those who like to cook, knit, etc., if that’s your only option, you don’t like it as much. This can cause you to think ‘I don’t know who I am anymore. I don’t have any hobbies.’”

the pandemic and mental health

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It’s all about balance – of which we have little

With regard to the recreational activities you once loved and now can’t stand, “It’s not that you don’t like those hobbies anymore. You’re oversaturated,” says Dr. Jackson. Before the pandemic, keep in mind that you had balance. You didn’t even have the time to overdo it on any given hobby or activity. You probably barely had the time to do any given thing you love as much as you wanted to. Now, you do.

the pandemic and mental health

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Bringing attention to preexisting issues

If you feel the pandemic is changing your relationship, it may just be that it’s bringing to light issues that were already there. Dr. Jackson says you may have thoughts such as, “Before, I had a 50 hour a week job, a partner, friends…I had all these activities that took up space, so I didn’t have to figure out how much of my relationship with my partner was not working.”

the pandemic and mental health

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It’s a forced spotlight

Dr. Jackson says that, with the noise of a busy life silenced, you may have more space to recognize problems that hid just beneath the surface in your relationship. “This thing that wasn’t on my mind as much is now really on my mind. And so now I’m questioning, ‘Should I be with this partner’? Things that are red flags bob up to the surface because it’s less crowded.”

the pandemic and mental health

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We’re inactive, so we look inward

“Whenever a problem arises, we think, ‘What can I do about it?’” says Dr. Jackson. But, with the pandemic, she says, “Now there isn’t much we can do. So we look inward. It’s a way of having control. It’s a feeling of ‘Things are ok so long as I can work on something.’ Maybe it’s going to therapy or focusing on losing weight. We need something to focus on when we feel that we don’t have control of something.”

the pandemic and mental health

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What are Americans doing?

Dr. Jackson puts the psychological analysis lens over a trend we all saw happening during this pandemic: people are becoming very preoccupied with new projects. One survey found that candle making, cooking, exercising, and knitting have become quite popular. You likely have friends who’ve gone on aggressive weight-loss journeys during this time. The fact that COVID-19 hits obese individuals harder could have something to do with it.

the pandemic and mental health

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Noticing change can feel unnatural

“Focusing on things we didn’t have to time to focus on before isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” says Dr. Jackson. “But we are more aware of our natural evolution and change. Many of us would agree, if we think about who we were 10 years ago, five years ago…honestly, even one year ago…we aren’t the same person. We can recognize that change. But we usually aren’t still long enough to see that change as it’s happening.”

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