To some, the new year signals a fresh start, hopes, dreams and, sometimes, fear. As we roll into the third year of the pandemic, anger, frustration and fatigue may be ramping up again for some with the omicron surge.
Sacramento County Behavioral Health Services Program Manager Dr. Andrew Mendonsa said this rise in mental health problems could be attributed to how life may be feeling unstable for many.
“I think one of the biggest issues that I’m seeing as a psychologist … is [that] the floor is constantly changing underneath us,” Mendonsa said. “We only get a little bit of stability, [then] we have an outbreak … there’s new public health orders. So there’s really this uncertainty … that some folks have adapted to … and others are still really struggling.”
Mendonsa joined CapRadio Insight Host Vicki Gonzalez to discuss what’s changing for people emotionally and gave some tips on how to cope with strong feelings.
This interview has edited clarity and length.
On some tools to help those who are struggling with their mental health
I really hope that a lot of people meditate and really reflect on "what can I control?"
Obviously, there's new variants coming out. There's changes in public health orders, and how we do things and all that. We can't really control that on an individual level, right? So what can we control? … What are some of the micro or kind of smaller behaviors [we can work on]? What are some of the things that can bring us happiness?
Is it going out and doing an extra walk because you can't be around family or you're working remote … or something like that.
Is it eating a little healthier, especially with the new year? … Is it making sure that you stay in contact with friends and family and coworkers, through text or through emails or through Zoom chat happy hours, or whatever it is?
I think it's really easy right now for us to kind of retreat.
On why it’s so easy to retreat and why we should fight it
You know, a lot of us are working from home. A lot of us really don’t have to go out much. We have DoorDash. We have delivery services. We can get out Costco delivered, our Safeway delivered – there’s really no reason to go out of the house these days.
And so, I think that this is a dual-prong kind of thing. I think it can serve us in a lot of good ways, but … if we don’t watch it … it can really force us to isolate. And I think that really kind of leads, like, fuel to depression, anxiety, isolation [and that] can really wreak havoc on people.
We want to take that with a grain of salt. We do have a lot more freedoms than before, but we have to really remember that we can be caught in a really wicked cycle if we don’t put ourselves and put our needs first.
On the general emotions his clients are feeling
One of the most common things that I see from clients and from family and friends who talk to me is the fear that “I can’t take care of my family. I can’t take care of my employees.” … [It’s] especially [true] for folks that are in charge, run companies, run departments …
There’s this really kind of sense of hopelessness and helplessness, almost that, “I wanted to do more.” I talked to someone the other day, and their son brought home COVID, and the whole house got sick. The parent was extremely, extremely emotional and took full responsibility of “why didn’t I do more to protect my family and protect my child?”
And I think we have [to be] really careful because there’s a lot of factors that are playing into your health right now, to our freedom and to everything that we can do.
So you’re really taking a step back and saying, “there’s some things that I am truly in control of and most things I'm not.” Really kind of giving yourself a break and cutting yourself some slack when things don’t go as planned.
On how to support children who are worried about attending in-person classes
You know, especially for kids, the number one thing is [to] try to keep a consistent schedule.
What wreaks havoc most on kids and anxiety in adults is [feeling like] everything is always changing. “I’m always pivoting. I’m always changing.”
You know, what is consistent? What can be consistent? And so, keeping your routine — if there’s a gym routine, maybe you can’t do it at the gym, or maybe you prefer not to do it at the gym, but you still do it somewhere else. You still do it where you feel safe.
And if your kids are involved in extracurricular activities, try to keep them involved. Are there other activities that perhaps you feel are safer for your children if you don’t like the way a particular extracurricular activity is being presented?
… What we don’t want to do is kind of change into kids go to school, and they immediately come home, and they have to immediately kind of be in lockdown, because that’s not healthy from a development standpoint for children, and just really for all of us.
What was pre-COVID like in our life … ? We all say, when we’re kind of in our routine, everything’s going good, we feel food, right? So trying to get back to that routine, [and] if you can’t, you know, work with someone, talk to friends or family, get yourself a routine.
Maybe it’s a post-pandemic or a during-pandemic routine, but something that’s consistent.
… I think right now … this is the era of flexibility … and fluidity … and being okay with pivoting.
What is the outcome that you want? … [For example,] I want to be able to go out with friends and then work backwards from there. What can you do to make that happen? Maybe it’s not an in-person connection … Can you do some Zoom? Can you do some phone calls and some texting?
But you know, get to that endgame. There’s a lot of ways to get across that finish line. Don’t just stick with one.
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