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How to deal with mental stress within your family caused by COVID-19 this winter

Mental Health
Posted at 4:17 PM, Dec 13, 2020

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Kate Maleski is a licensed psychotherapist in Buffalo who has nearly two decades of experience; she is answering some of our questions about dealing with mental stress within your family that's caused by COVID-19 this winter.

Question: What is your general sense of how COVID-19 has challenged the mental health of our community?

Answer: I've seen it effect everybody that i have worked with. In different ways. Everyone is grieving something. A loss of some sort of their life. But also I'm seeing a lot of gains. There is anxiety around all the things that we have lost but once we learn to find some sort of acceptance in that you start to see some light too. We are spending more time with our families which is nice. I'm having dinner more with my family more which is great. But again there is a lot of uncertainty and through the last 9 months there has been uncertainty the whole time. Things get maybe a little more normal then we go into orange again. There is a lot of change. It's effecting a lot of people. A lot of people are feeling isolated, numb, withdrawn, fatigued. Even zoom fatigued when people are on their computers all day. It's effecting everyone in different ways.

Question: What has the demand been like for mental health services?

Answer: It's been very high demand. Which is great. I'm looking that as a plus that people are asking for help. I think when people are not asking for help they are feeling more depressed and isolated. I am seeing a high demand but i think that is wonderful. It's really decreasing the stigma then. What a lot of mental health professionals are doing is virtual sessions like a zoom or what ever device they have. That has been really great and insurance companies are really helping out with that as well.

Question: Everyone is an individual and are dealing with things in a different way. Is there general advice for how to cope with everything that has been going on?

Answer: Acknowledging. Acknowledging where you are. Acknowledging how you are feeling. Talking, communicating. You know we all can feel upset about something and there are all different reasons that we can feel upset. But if we keep it in it just bounces around in our head. It doesn't go anywhere. So being able to talk about it is really helpful and acknowledging it. And also asking other people how they are doing. Not just your own pain but if you are asking someone else how they are doing you feel more relatable you see other people are struggling and you also are showing other people that you care.

Question: If you see someone having a hard time. A difficult time. How do you approach talking to someone about it?

Answer: Don't be afraid to ask. Just saying how are you doing. That can be a general question. Or you can say things are tough right now aren't they. Seeing what they say. Or I'm kind of struggling right now how are you doing? That kind of opens the door for them to be able to express how they are feeling. And don't ever assume you know how someone is doing. Asking the questions is key. And especially with our kids. Our kids no matter what age they are they are struggling for different reasons. Never assume how they are doing. Ask. Ask the questions in a safe environment.

Question: There is a new survey out by the Nationwide Children's Hospital that says two thirds of parents are concerned about the long term effects of this on the mental health of their children and being able to recover from all of that. That they are worried. I have two school aged kids at home, I think they've been resilient, but my wife and I do worry. In your professional opinion, and i know this is uncharted territory, but should we be worried about this?

Answer: We are in a pandemic. There is a lot of worry out there. Our kids, no matter what age they are, they are always looking at their parents for reassurance and how they should react. They look at us, they want comfort. I think having those lines of communication now helps them later on. It's important to be real with them on an age appropriate level but also assure them that they are going to be ok. Give them coping strategies that may help you. Or just being able to talk to them is going to help long term. Kids are resilient. So as long as they have you and they have the support that you give them I think they are going to be ok.

Question: That's what it is. Acknowledging to children that this is difficult for everyone. How do we keep kids positive? It's been nine months of this.

Answer: To keep them positive. I think it's really important, like you talked about with acknowledging give them a space to worry. You can call it for younger kids "worry time" where they can sit with you and they can express how they are feeling and no questions are off limits. But then you are like ok, we have got that out, now lets go do something else. Let's try and be as normal as possible whether that is a board game or a walk outside or a family event. Something that they can do. A movie night. So you are allowing them to be able to feel but so they can have a couple different feelings at once. There is light around us right now. We have to let them see that.

Question: For parents. Everyone is worried about everything. I think the biggest thing is disruption in routine for parents. Whether you are working from home, or you are now acting as a teacher at home , there is a lot going on. I have good days and bad days. What can we do for ourselves as parent, as families to try and keep up with the change in day to day?

Answer: We have to acknowledge there also this big anxiety around notifications right? Whether it be a computer notification or a phone notification. We don't get breaks. Whether a teacher teaching our kids or working from home. We have to give ourselves a break. Just even if...I know people say...how am I going to find a break i have no time in the day. Two three minutes to walk away or just be able to breath through this. Know that you are doing a good job. Giving yourself a pat on the back. We have guilt right now, we have worry, we have all of those things. But we have to stay positive because that positivity helps with our well being and resiliency as well.

Question: And perhaps we can find that positivity in the change of pace. Right. Some of the things that have changed for us may actually be helping us out. There is more time with your family, more time with a loved one that is closed to you, or maybe even a downshift in responsibilities socially to find, I don't know some new things to celebrate.

Answer: Absolutely. We have to look around us and say I'm accepting that this is reality. And acceptance is a stage of grief because we are all grieving. If we can find that acceptance. And acceptance doesn't mean we agree, or like, or any of that. It just means that we are accepting this is our reality. Then we can start letting some light in. Look for the small wins, there are small wins around us.

Question: WNY. Winter is here, can be isolating in itself. Now that isolation on top of a pandemic. Any strategies for folks that are going to be dealing with a new level of isolation in the winter time?

Answer: Think about if there is something that we can do at home. Keeping our minds stimulated on something. Getting outside. Even if it's freezing, getting outside for just a little bit of time. Think about reaching out to others. Sending someone an email, or a card in the mail. Being able to connect on the phone or through email what ever that may be. Trying to not just lose ourselves in this. If we are feeling isolated at home, put structure to it. Get up at a certain time. Move our body. Eat well. Go bed at a similar time. Try to have some type of structure.

Question: Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your expertise on this. Is there any final message that you want to get across to continue to encourage people in these unprecedented times?

Answer: Yes. I think everyone needs to give themselves a pat on the back. This is hard. It's hard for everybody and you are doing a good job. There is guilt in so many different ways. And i think we need to work on ways, to give ourselves a break. Not to feel so much guilt. Try to put aside judgment of ourselves and others. Work together and be kind to ourselves and others. That is going to be what gets us through this is kindness.