Where does your mental health stand a year into the pandemic?

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The pandemic has taken a toll on mental health across the world. (Getty Images)

Utah (ABC4) – The coronavirus pandemic has officially passed its year mark. When the pandemic first hit Utah back in March of 2020 mental health became a concern for everyone. 

The pandemic was unexpected. The daily tasks of our lives were drastically changed. Working from home became the new normal for many. Students transitioned to learning from home and many teachers taught virtually. Mask wearing became a daily occurrence and social distancing from friends and family a needed safety measure. 

Much physical adapting has been done over the past 12 months but how about our mental adapting?

Steven M. Lucero, Ph.D., M.B.A. is a Licensed Psychologist and at the University of Utah Counseling Center. He tells ABC4 “in times of significant tragedy, we can often attempt to engage in cognitive negotiation strategies that put distance between ourselves and the event. We tell ourselves, ‘That happened in another part of the world or another part of the country. This can’t possibly impact me. My loved ones and I are safe.’ This is a self-protective effort to help make our little worlds around us just a bit safer. As the pandemic increasingly started to impact our state and our communities, it became increasingly more challenging to create a narrative of safety.” 

Dr. Lucero says these experiences are “profoundly destabilizing.” 

He says as the pandemic wore on, the ambiguity around what constituted the latest evidence-based science and public health messaging created more uncertainty for Utahns. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, and even now, there was so much uncertainty. How does the virus spread, what public safety measures should be taken, and how long will the pandemic last? Dr. Lucero says these things all contributed to increased emotional and social dysfunction for many around our state.

Dr. Lucero says the longer people have to deal with this type of ambiguous information, the more “burnt out” they begin to feel. “Unfortunately, the most complicated problems like an unprecedented global pandemic are the types of problems that are least likely to have clear answers and easy solutions,” he adds.

“In general, we struggle with uncertainty,” Dr. Lucero shares. Unfortunately, the pandemic exposed how little control we have over so many different areas of our lives. 

“When approaching a problem is outside of our locus of control, it can be easy to give up. When we begin to question, ‘What difference can I make as an individual?’ it can be challenging to engage in the very public health measures that require every individual to follow to get this pandemic under control,” Dr. Lucero adds.

He says he feels individuals who can identify the meaningfulness of their individual contributions to the whole were the ones who seemed to respond more resiliently to this crisis.

When we face problems that push us beyond our typical limits of coping, it’s important to rely on our established systems of support, Dr. Lucero shares with ABC4. 

He considers asking yourself who are the people with whom you feel the most validation from, who can you rely on in your most vulnerable times? He also says “exercise and physical activity are especially important.”

As the weather warms up and we have more opportunities to engage in activities that might expose us to increased Vitamin D he encouraged Utahns to get away from the screen and outside.

Looking past the pandemic Dr. Lucero says he feels there might be some unfortunate consequences. 

“While the term ‘social distancing’ caught fire at the outset of the pandemic, a healthier theme might well have been ‘physical distancing.’ The unfortunate consequence of the pandemic is that many of us have been increasingly lacking the social connections that are so vital to our species.” 

He says the pandemic has pushed us into “increased isolation that is wreaking havoc on our physical and psychological well-being.”

“I hope that we have observed the negative impacts of the pandemic on our mental health and social well-being so that we can more mindfully push for increasing our connections with others as life begins to take small steps toward a new normal.” 

There will doubtlessly be lasting effects of the pandemic on our lives, Dr. Lucero shares. 

He says we all face an important decision in choosing how we respond to the consequences of the pandemic. 

“Will we give in to the uncertainty of despair that our state, our nation, and our world have faced as millions worldwide have perished or been made worse off from his horrible virus? Or… Will we embrace the short-term challenge of increasing our investments in one another and in our communities to develop a more resilient approach to unforeseen problems? The challenge awaits; how will we respond?” 

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