Maria Gutzeit | Stress of Life with COVID Hits Us All

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An acquaintance recently commented to our Zoom group that she was feeling both anxious and down. This surprised her, she said, because she’s normally a “I got this” kind of person. 

She said watching businesses close and people struggle was wearing on her. It surprised all of us, because she’s one of those folks who seems to have it always pulled together. 

It surprised me, because a mental slump hit me about the same time as it hit her. The stress of life with COVID hits us all sooner or later.

Our family is lucky. We both have worked continually as “essential workers.” We took a few hits, but nothing like job loss or illness. 

Yet there was, and is, plenty to worry about. Schooling became nearly non-existent. We wondered how our daughter would cope. Now we spend days making sure lessons are uploaded, WiFi is working, and answering worksheet questions in between our own work schedules. 

It’s better, but not easier. It’s no doubt maddening for single parents, or parents of multiple young children. Some businesses can’t open, yet rent continues to be due. Some people can’t find work. Some people are working harder than ever, yet face pay cuts or don’t get paid at all. All of this amps up stress.

There’s the constant risk of illness. True, this was always there before, but now we are reminded daily that one misstep could kill us or our family members. 

It’s not just the virus that’s dangerous. People are more distracted. Though miles driven are down, car crashes per mile driven are up across the country. Another side effect of our strange times.

Everything has become harder. Buying toilet paper or other essentials can be a ridiculous effort. Dealing with lines, weird shortages, strange store hours, or offices running reduced schedules all add challenges to what required little brainpower before. 

Routine errands now require strategic planning. Some construction supplies and parts are extremely backordered. Contractors are maxed out. Service visits to home or office may have restarted but are difficult to schedule.  And there’s nothing like a visit to a small stuffy room full of masked people for a necessary appointment to make us question our own sanity.

This added anxiety has put people on edge. Partisan politics, dueling protests, and social media shine a light on a seeming civic breakdown. Even routine interactions seem to be extra tense these days. 

The American Medical Association is calling attention to reports of increased drug use and overdoses since the pandemic began. The data firm Nielsen reported that total alcohol sales were up 32% in May 2020 compared to the same time last year.

Financial assistance, rent relief and food were quickly made available as the pandemic hit. Mental health services were not promoted as much. It is increasingly clear that they are equally important.  

Thankfully online, phone, and traditional resources are available. A great starting point locally is 

September is National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. Having dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder from a past brain injury, I know how what seems like “nothing” can turn into something you can’t handle. Just as we can’t will away high cholesterol or a broken arm, sometimes we need help when our mental state becomes out of balance.

My friend has taken to doing yoga at 3 a.m. I try to stay on track with an ample supply of Post-It notes and fresh air, but it doesn’t always work. 

We all need to find our way, especially with today’s mounting pressures. We have to support each other, not just with a meal or a donation, but with a sincere “how are you” and a conversation.  

We need extra kindness for ourselves, and for those who might be under a lot more stress lately, even if they have a little freak-out in front of us. Do a grocery run or help someone figure out home delivery. Bring a chair and chat on the front lawn. Take a walk together. Offer to watch the neighbor’s dogs when they go away for the weekend. 

Do get away, whether to a park, the beach, or a socially distanced visit to business clients. Meet friends you used to see all the time, safely, in real life, or take a weekend camping trip. Somehow getting away from the news and interacting with others can make a huge difference. It broadens your perspective. 

The next time someone says they are lonely, listen. 

Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, elected official, and mom living in Santa Clarita. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats.

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