by Douglas L. Anderson, PsyD
It’s Wednesday, August 18, 2021, as I write this, and I see that we added 348 more COVID cases yesterday in South Dakota. This virus sneaks up on us and has the creative ability to mutate and thus remain difficult to thoroughly defeat. And frankly, it is taking a toll on us psychologically and relationally in ways we could not have anticipated or imagined just 18 months ago. It clearly has the upper hand.
Of course there are some things we can do to reduce its physical impact. We know that masks, though imperfect, are very helpful in preventing spread. We know that the mRNA vaccine has over 30 years of research behind it and, though imperfect, is having a major positive impact on reducing deaths, hospitalizations, and spread. And we know that thoughtful people across our state and nation are making personal efforts to be considerate of those around them by wearing masks and getting vaccinated.
But how about the psychological impact? The research taking place right now is becoming increasingly useful as more and more data pours in from research groups across the globe. We know that men tend to have a slightly more negative outcome if they contract COVID, but women tend to be more impacted psychologically by the pandemic. We know that university students are among the most psychologically impacted group. We know that people with pre-existing psychological disorders are more vulnerable to negative psychological impact from the pandemic.
We also know that couples experiencing significant stress from the pandemic are showing increased relationship difficulty. This is often the result of both high pandemic stress and one or both individuals in the relationship needing a lot of support due to personal attachment insecurities. High pandemic stress is related to the obvious fear of the virus itself, the loss of jobs and income, the stress of schooling our own children at home, the shift of some to working from home, knowing someone who has died due to COVID, times of isolation, working as a front line medical or emergency worker during the pandemic, and so on.
We can do many things to help reduce the negative psychological and relationship impact of the pandemic. I have a couple of things for you to consider.
First, I encourage you to stop asking “why” questions and to basically come to terms with our reality. There is no room for denial. Over 620,000 Americans have died from COVID and COVID-related events. Marsha Linehan talks about the need for “radical acceptance” of the reality we face. In other words, when we are not able to have control of our circumstances, the best thing we can do is accept our situation and begin to ask questions that move us forward. We can ask ourselves “how” we want to deal with our situation. Maybe we can ask “how” we want to serve those around us because we know that we are always better together.
Second, we live in South Dakota where a great deal of pressure has been applied to the idea that we are free. People have different views of just what freedom should look like from a political perspective.
However, from a psychological and principled perspective the answer is quite clear. When we are granted freedom we are also held to a certain level of personal accountability to act in the best interest of others. In other words, the human response to being free is genuinely wrapped up in the freedom to come alongside one another, the freedom to care about the other, the freedom to treat one another with deeply principled thought and care. In short, we are free to love and serve one another.
When we come to a point of radical acceptance of our situation, and when we understand freedom as our ability to freely choose to love and serve one another, then we will put a significant dent in the negative psychological and relationship impact of the pandemic.
If you are experiencing the negative psychological or relationship impact of the pandemic and want someone to assist you in finding your way through this moment in our collective lives, call River Counseling Services and Sioux Falls Psychological Services. We will meet you where you are and help you discover hope, even in the midst of yet one more round of the pandemic. You may schedule an appointment with the Platte office at 605-337-3444, or meet with one of our Sioux Falls Psychological Services therapists from your own computer or smartphone. To schedule an appointment please call 605-334-2696.