As we approach a full year of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, we can look back and realize that for most of us, this has been a year unlike any other year. When it started, there were so many unknowns around how this virus could possibly come to disrupt our lives. Would we be able to get supplies? Would we be able to keep our jobs? Would we be able to maintain our health? Today, I take a deeper look at how the pandemic has impacted many levels of our lives.
Abraham Maslow, an early pioneer in the field of psychology, proposed that human beings have five levels of needs in his Hierarchy of Needs pyramid: physiological, safety, belongingness and love, esteem, and self actualization. Many of us have experienced uncertainty on all levels, beginning with even having enough toilet paper! When these needs are met, we feel secure and are able to attend to additional needs. Any threat to our food supply, housing, or daily functioning, prevents us from fully considering needs in any other category. We know that the ability to maintain these most basic needs have not been consistent across demographics as COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color. Having been more likely financially disadvantaged prior to the pandemic, the virus has further strained these families and BIPOC communities.
With the need to stay home, we have seen mental health issues sky rocket and safety at home diminished. From being able to have space or reprieve from those whom you are with every day to cases of domestic violence rising significantly, forced shared space certainly has an impact. Issues that roommates, couples, or families had prior to the pandemic that might previously have been easy to distract from, became front and center for many and therefore unavoidable.
Social distancing and staying home has put a stain on the ability to connect with others and foster the ability to maintain, sustain, and create belongings and love needs. This has been acutely evident in Substance Use Disorder field, as connection is a integral part of the antidote against isolation and addiction. Zoom meetings have helped to fill the void, but some find it difficult to connect in the same way virtually and you certainly cannot hug through the internet! We have seen an alarming increase in addiction and overdose rates as a result.
As one can imagine, meeting esteem needs and fulfilling one’s potential is infinitely more difficult when more basic needs are not met. While social media encouraged us to go the extra mile to write a book or start new projects during this time, many have been simply surviving day to day and this is not a reality that is achievable for them. We are seeing more PTSD like symptoms than ever before as a result of the pandemic. Watching loved ones die, losing your housing, or having long term health complications as a result of Covid, affects the nervous system in very real ways. You or your loved ones may have discovered changes in mood, concentration, appetite, or sleep. An increase of racing thoughts, rumination, fears around the future, or the need for control may have surfaced. If you find yourself struggling with some of these symptoms or even with everyday life, know that you are not alone and that help is available. For people who are struggling financially, there are a variety of low or no cost options here in Austin, including: Mindful Wellness Center of Austin, Lifeworks, Waterloo Counseling (LGBTQIA friendly), The SAFE Alliance (domestic violence), and Colors of Austin (BIPOC).
Despite the trials this year has brought us, there have also been amazing stories of resilience, less strain on our environment, an increased in therapy access due to new online platforms and resources, people getting sober and maintaining their sobriety, and most importantly, humans helping other humans in their hour of need. May we emerge from this pandemic with increased compassion for the struggles of others and willingness to work together to rise above our challenges.