Tag: pandemic

On the COVID-19 pandemic’s third anniversary, we’re pausing to honor the 6.6 million lives lost, reflect on the profound experience this disease has had on us as survivors, and look for meaningful paths forward. In the first of this two-part series on moving from a state of survival to conditions for thriving, we looked at how American lives have collectively changed over the course of this ongoing public health crisis. In this article, we turn our attention to what happens when we pause and reflect on the lives we lead.

COVID-19: Reflection Mode

Because of the massive disruption COVID-19 had on billions of lives, a disruption that caused significant changes in our everyday behaviors, over time we slowly moved from survival mode [link survival mode to March blog post] toward lockdown reflection. And what we seemed to notice during this time was our mental health is paramount.

Such a big disruption naturally makes people ponder big questions. To pause. To notice. And while on a societal level, we seemed to be waking up to inequalities within our operating systems, racial and otherwise, on a personal level it looked like a series of ambiguous, philosophical questions. Presented with so many deaths in a short time span, we asked ourselves: How do we live a life of meaning?

How COVID-19 Changed Our Ideas about Work

There is, of course, no single answer to how to live a meaningful life. It was clearly on many people’s minds, though. The question quietly rang behind social shifts we saw in the second and third years of the COVID pandemic. The Great Resignation, aka the Big Quit, the Great Rethink, or the Great Reshuffle, saw people leaving the workplace in droves: leaving for safety concerns, because of burnout, inadequate support from companies, and the need for childcare (which is closely tied to the issue of unpaid care work), or people who discovered they wanted autonomy or meaning in their work, or more money as the labor market tightened. Resignation rates remain high. “People are now looking at work and the role they want it to play in their lives in a different way, and switching to jobs that better align with their new values,” writes Kate Morgan for the BBC.

Like the Black Lives Matter movement, the Great Resignation may have gotten its spark from the pandemic, but the embers had been building long before COVID came to be. Quit rates have been steadily increasing over the past decade. Wages have stagnated for decades, and minimum wage has not been keeping up with rate of inflation. There is an American culture of presenteeism and widespread burnout in the workplace. The pandemic wasn’t the cause, per se—but it may have been the collective taking in of breath and deciding factor for workers to act on their mounting dissatisfaction. Many of us are looking for ways to restore wellbeing, and our professional lives are a natural place to ponder.

Just as pausing to engage in deep breathing, meditation, and other coping strategies helps our mental health, the collective pause caused by COVID-19 has helped create a shift in priorities. It allowed us time to reevaluate society. What’s working? What isn’t? What can I do about it? How am I spending my time, which is ultimately my life? Rethinking the workplace—where, how, and why we work—is part and parcel of that process. After all, one-third of the average American’s life is spent at work. Some may prefer to work remotely, work less, go into private practice, switch jobs, or any number of configurations that align more closely with their idea of meaning and success.

One method to considering how you spend your time is viewing time management not through the lens of productivity but that of mortality. Rather than cramming in as many work products as you can into every hour, attempting perfection, or delaying creative work because of busy culture, scale grander. As Oliver Burkeman writes in the book 4,000 Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, we suffer when we engage in “causal catastrophe,” or treating every moment as a means to some future end. He, like many others, stresses the importance of enjoying the now and connecting with others.

How COVID-19 Revived Self-Care

The pandemic lockdown was a poignant reminder that loneliness hurts our health. Being isolated can have serious consequences on our minds and bodies. We are, after all, social animals. Presented with a widespread public health problem, we reconsidered what it means to be happy and live a fulfilling and purposeful life. In addition to shifts in the way we work, we are starting to see a revived focus on mental wellness and self-care as a result of those inquiries.

With COVID’s stark reminder that life is short, Americans are slowly unraveling the myths of the busyness badge and that taking time to take care for oneself is frivolous. Self-care is not self-indulgence. As therapists, we know it’s a vital part of coping with stress and restoring mental wellbeing.

In addition to more importance placed upon mental health and wellness, another silver lining from the pandemic for mental and behavioral health services may be that access to care has increased as a result of telehealth. It’s become much more commonplace to remotely visit a therapist or substance use counselor, which has important implications for how we can provide support to rural patients across the large state of Maine. Telehealth has removed geographical barriers to mental health services that some have unfortunately experienced in the past. And the more normalized work-from-home office has helped some people find the flexibility in their work schedules to attend therapy appointments.

COVID-19: Imagination Mode

The calls for “back to normal” we heard mid-pandemic were largely calls coming from those who profited by what normal was pre-pandemic. It’s imperative that we continue to question and reflect on our values and imagine and shape our collective future accordingly. What can you picture? How can you align your life to your values? How can we reimagine and rebuild society so that it values equality, justice, and collaboration, or any number of core values that resonate with us? What does it look like to become a nation where, as Jean Accius of AARP puts it, “race and other social demographic factors do not determine your ability to live a longer, healthier and more productive life”?

We’ve had COVID-19 survival and reflection modes. Let’s enter a COVID-19 imagination mode. Let’s ask ourselves: What future do we want to create?

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This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on April 29, 2021, by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine.  

Question: I recently found out my 17-year-old is smoking marijuana. He said he does it to help with anxiety and that he finds a lot of relief in it. I don’t love the idea at all, but I also feel powerless to stop him. How can I talk to him about the risks but also be supportive if I lose this battle?

Answer: This is a difficult time for parents. At 17, your son is on the cusp of becoming a legal adult. This can give teens a feeling of not needing guidance or permission. Passing the milestone of 18 will not suddenly make him mature enough to all make decisions that are in his best interest. However, if your son is just starting to use at 17, studies show he is less at risk than a teen who starts at a young age, who smokes/vapes for years. A University of Montreal study says that the more teenagers delay smoking marijuana (cannabis) until they are older, the better it is for their brains, but there may be little ill effect if they start after age 17. That may give you some comfort. However, the human brain takes 26 years to reach full development so introducing substances does have risks when it comes to full potential.

That being said, I find a troubling issue in your question. What is causing the anxiety at age 17 for him to self-medicate with marijuana to relieve it? Many people have found cannabis calming, yet at seventeen or any age really, understanding the underlying cause of the anxiety is key. There are many non-drug ways of treating anxiety worth exploring.

Teens have lots of reasons to feel anxious and the pandemic has increased this anxiety. Life looks uncertain, relationships and future plans may be on hold, decreased social activity can add to general unsettledness and hopelessness. Under normal times, this age is challenging—adult responsibilities and major life decisions loom and teens question themselves. They are also developmentally pulling away from parental influences which can sometimes cause problems at home.

I commend you for wanting to address his marijuana use, but an overall conversation needs to include healthy coping and understanding of what is contributing to his anxiety. Living with anxiety can be a lifelong struggle and he should seek help at an early age to prevent this. Assure him that he does not have to talk to you about it, but a counselor might be a great help to him. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based successful treatment for anxiety which many therapists use in their work.

I urge you to do more research to give you what you need for the discussion. For parents with younger children, talking about marijuana and substance abuse needs to happen before they start using and should be an ongoing conversation. Here are some talking points (taken from the references below) for you and other parents to begin a conversation about marijuana use.

Marijuana can affect driving. It is extremely important that teens who drive understand how dangerous driving under the influence of marijuana can be. Reaction time and judgment can be impaired coupled with inexperience behind the wheel.

Importantly, marijuana is illegal. The fact that many states have legalized recreational marijuana has given a lot of young people the idea that it is legal and okay for them to use. It is not. Recreational marijuana is only legal for adults age 21 and older. Legal trouble can be incurred by a teen for possession and/or dealing.

Marijuana is not good for teen brains. Studies have shown that early marijuana use (16 and younger) causes problems with judgment, planning, and decision-making that may lead to risky behaviors. Some studies show problems with memory, motivation, and academic performance. Not the best situation with which to step into adulthood. The teens who may have a predisposition (possible family history) to mental illness and/or addiction may find themselves struggling with depression, psychosis, or further substance use.

There are very real health reasons not to smoke/vape cannabis. A 2017 study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine states that teens who vape are twice as likely to experience respiratory problems along with coughs, bronchitis, congestion, and phlegm than peers who do not vape.

Lastly, I like that you want to have a conversation with your son about marijuana. This is hard for parents who are often confused themselves or have mixed messages on the subject. I also like that you want to be supportive no matter the outcome. It is a conversation worth having and it will show your love for him.

Here is further information about cannabis use in teens and about anxiety:


Click to access evidence-brief-youth-13-17-e.pdf

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine.

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This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on May 14th, 2020 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

This quote brings me comfort when I am restless and sleepless over my worries. You can think of it anytime your mind is troubled before sleep; it might be especially helpful now. We have lots to be concerned about, as we are now weeks into the Coronavirus shutdown, with uncertain ends in sight. We worry about our loved ones, our country, our businesses and jobs, finances, and daily food. Some parents are suddenly in the role of schoolteachers to their children, on top of their many other work and home responsibilities. Even when experiencing a job loss at this time, some have had to spend many hours of navigating to access benefits—a job in itself!  

It is important to understand that worries and anxiety are about the future “what ifs.” Learning to sort out which of your thoughts really deserve your attention and which are simply creating more anxiety, staying in the moment, addressing those things that are right in front of you–helps keep worries manageable.  

Here are the lessons found in Emerson’s quote:

1.  Finish each day and be done with it.

Reliving it doesn’t change anything. Berating yourself over things done, and not done, is useless spinning. Allow yourself to close the book on today and stop reviewing the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” moments, or the things you cannot control. In the morning, they will not seem as bad.  

2.  You have done what you could.

Celebrate your full day, as weird and uncommon it may seem, and the things you were able to do, big and small. Try to remember a moment from the beginning of the day. You managed, and you got through it.  Perhaps your day had some moments of fun. Perhaps you reassured your child, reached out to a friend, or cooked a good dinner–good for you. Perhaps you shuffled the kids outside, and took a moment for yourself—good for you. Right now it is about putting one foot in front of the other and navigating what changes come—one day at a time. Today, you have done what you could.  

3.  Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in. Forget them as soon as you can.

We are not perfect. We make mistakes, forget things, get tired or even angry. Give yourself permission to have a moment, or many moments of struggle. Some days run smoothly, others are just, well, not smooth. It is human to have to keep trying, and right now there is a lot being asked of you. If you are trying under these unusual circumstances, then you are doing the best you can. So try not to be the first one to cast judgment on yourself. 

4.  Tomorrow is a new day.

Thank goodness for that! We get a new chance every day. This virus will end or at least we will find a way to manage it. The world will keep spinning and there will be many new days.

5.  You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered by your old nonsense.  

That’s the pledge. After sleep, the worries that keep us up can seem trivial in the morning light. Living in these strange conditions created by the virus has given us gifts and lessons in the midst of our concerns. So tomorrow, you will wake up anew, ready to embrace what may be a really great adventure in life.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine.

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