I am grateful that I am able to continue to offer telehealth, or distance therapy, sessions for my clients. I have noticed that some have responded to the trauma of the pandemic with expected intense feelings of anxiety, low mood, guilt at having food and shelter whilst so many are deprived of these basics, and stress over ongoing unpredictability.
Having a Purpose
Clients in this group are generally able to fund their expenses. They are mostly feeling a great sense of purpose and control when they are able to give of their time, talent and money to those less fortunate. They appreciate having more time and not having to rush from one meeting or appointment to another or from exhausting social gatherings, all of which have been termed ‘hurry sickness’. They are either locked down with their families and are enjoying this special and rare bonding time or are alone with partners in good or good enough relationships.
These clients talk also of the cleaner world that they are seeing around them. They enjoy hearing more birdsong and breathing cleaner air, this when they are able to go outside. They express the wish that the world of governments and industry will see the value of a greener, cleaner earth for all of us.
They are recognising that the plight of the desperately poor is not new and their hope is that there will be a new focus on the divide between the haves and the have-nots in the new normal world. These clients who are mostly coping, with renewed resilience and courage, are sometimes feeling that they are riding a rollercoaster with the highs and lows of change, but are generally feeling quite strong.
Then there are clients who are really struggling with the ongoing and unrelenting trauma of this pandemic. It feels to them like a double wounding and a double trauma. These clients are finding that the pandemic is triggering their worst fears and feelings; anxiety that was an issue prior to the pandemic is amplified and very difficult to moderate, and depression is intensified with the isolation of lockdown. It is this group of clients who need extra care and attention at this time.
Below are some of the feelings that have been expressed by many of my clients; some by those who are generally coping well and those who are particularly vulnerable at this time of ongoing trauma.
Stress of boredom
I have heard the stress of boredom from many people; some who are used to a busy social life and others who depend on being with people in person, both at work or at home, to entertain and stimulate.
Loss of privacy
We have, in the past (pre-pandemic), spoken at length about partners, husbands, children and pets if there are any. So far, I have only met the well-loved pets online, and heard some background noises from the children, but haven’t as yet met partners or husbands. There was, however, an unexpected appearance on Zoom of a client’s Mom who didn’t realise that her adult daughter was in a private therapy session. It turned out well though with Mom being introduced to me and quietly exiting the space.
Feelings of anxiety, depression and anger when clients have not been able to work, either on their own or in someone else’s business. This leads to severe financial insecurity and lack of control over their futures.
Most people are expressing the stress of uncertainty; ‘How long will this last?’, ‘When will we be able to get back to work?’, ‘My sanity depends on regular walks at any time on the beachfront’, ‘I really, really need to get out there and into my life. I don’t know, however, what my life in the new future, will look like?’
Elderly clients whose children and grandchildren live overseas and who have had to adapt over the years to irregular visits, are experiencing the anxiety of: ‘What happens if I get sick?’ ‘How will my son visit when he cannot travel?’, ‘Who will come to my funeral if I get sick and die from Corona or from the other illnesses that I currently have?’
Loss of familiarity
Most clients are facing the stress of change where everything is different and where just as they get used to a new status quo, things that are becoming comfortable and familiar are again changed. There is a mourning of familiarity and a sense of loss of normalcy.
Many clients are suffering from media information overload and infodemics; the latter where the pandemic is used to fuel conspiracy theories, these in the minds of already vulnerable people who are fearful and searching desperately for answers and someone or a government to blame.
Clients with babies and toddlers are working from home and really struggling to deal with the seemingly endless needs of their children. This is resulting in conflict within the parental relationship that is amplified as both parents are working. The grandparents, who would usually assist, are in isolation and unable to do so.
There are parents juggling the demands of work, housework, healthy food preparation as well as managing home-schooling schedules for their children in different schools. Helping their children to manage their school work and their anxieties requires a lot of their energy, patience and time. Some young and older children are either struggling to fall asleep at night or are waking in the early hours of the morning; too anxious to fall asleep again. This of course impacts further on the parents, leaving them feeling exhausted and helpless.
Loss of self-care. Loss of couple-care
With so many demands at home, the parents are describing how they are not finding the time nor the energy to care for themselves. This too translates into little time, space or energy left for partners to relate to each other; physically, emotionally and/or sexually.
Some clients who live with their families in small apartments and are used to getting out to work and to exercise are now feeling very cooped up and not able to get much needed space. Weight gain due to lack of regular exercise and increased comfort eating or junk food intake is causing some clients to be more stressed now. A change in sleep patterns caused by struggling to fall or stay asleep through the night is also adding stress for some.
People who are living on their own have been particularly stressed by not being able to connect in person with others.
The elderly, who previously relied on being visited by their children or grandchildren, are now expressing a visceral ache of loneliness as their lives were made more valuable by a visit and a hug from family.
They are also missing their regular visits to the GP, specialist or me, where they felt safe and could speak freely. While they consult online if they can, it is not quite the same for these clients. This pandemic has changed everything for them.
I listen to those who have serious illnesses and they understandably worry about consulting their doctors in a hospital setting where, already immune compromised, they fear catching Covid-19. Clients are fearing the unknown.
This is a time of great loss. My clients are mourning the loss of everything that they knew as normal. While none of them have as yet lost anyone through Covid -19, they are fearing this loss as we move towards the peak of the pandemic in South Africa. They are also experiencing secondary trauma when they watch world news that is reporting so much death and destruction from this pandemic.
I am hearing of guilt and shame from clients who are trying to help others but are feeling that they can never do enough for the poor and hungry. There are those who feel so emotionally wretched and do not want to burden their already burdened family and friends with their troubles.
Deep muscle relaxation with creative visualisation and music is a skill that I learned and adapted over the past many years primarily to lower anxiety levels, promote pain relief and improve sleep. It is a tool that I have successfully shared in workshops with colleagues, the business community and in my private practice.
Should you wish to try this practice yourself, or add it to your toolkit, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with DEEP MUSCLE RELAXATION in the subject line and I shall send it to you via WeTransfer. There will be no cost to you.