Back in mid-March when New York began shutting down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many people quickly adjusted to phone, Facetime or Zoom sessions with their therapist. If you were anything like me at the time, I assumed that by the middle of the summer we’d all be back to in-person sessions. Now, as we stare down the final days of summer and uncertainty around work and school schedules, it seems that virtual therapy is here to stay. Many of us have not only adapted to virtual (telehealth) sessions but we have embraced them – despite the drawbacks. After five full months of sessions over Zoom, I’ve come up with some practical tips and suggestions to make the most out of your virtual sessions.
Two weeks ago, our nation entered into the reality of life in the age of COVID-19. Regardless of where you got your information, there was a noticeable shift in our collective attention to the severity of what Asia and Europe had already come face-to-face with. Within the scope of three days, conferences were cancelled, stadiums emptied, churches went virtual and schools began to close. Living in New York, we were (and are) literally on the front lines of this pandemic. I remember heading to the grocery store two Thursdays ago to get a few more items that we missed on our previous “preparedness run.” The lines, crowds and overflowing carts felt like the day before Thanksgiving collided with a classic Northeastern “Snowpocalypse.” Come Monday, countless companies and agencies scrambled to get their workforce remote-ready “out of an abundance of caution.” If your experience was anything like mine, week one of “Social Distancing” was disorienting, disruptive and filled with anxiety.
Welcome to the middle of week two.
One of my colleagues asked me if it was silly to invest all of this time and energy into developing remote working capabilities and attending countless webinars on the subjects of mental health, COVID-19 and innovative ways of sustaining and thriving in this new environment. Afterall, she argued, we could be back to “normal” in four weeks or so. Perhaps. But probably not. I’ve struggled with how to adjust, however temporary, to what we all are experiencing. I’ve felt anxiety like I never have before. I’ve caught myself standing in the middle of my living room unsure of what to do and where to move. I’ve sat down at the end of a long day and felt like weeping.
Welcome to collective grief.
I’ve been thinking about all of the things that we’ve “lost” – social connections that we under-valued, a sense of security that was over-estimated and the luxury of stability in a world that we can’t control. I’ve not only seen others go through the range of emotions that often accompany death, I’ve experienced many of them myself. I think it’s fair to say that something (and for many someone) has been taken away from us with what feels like little to no warning. Just like with death, we eventually get back to the business of living…but we are changed.
Welcome to now.
Wherever you are emotionally at this moment is where you need to be. You may hate it. You may think its unfair. You may think everyone else is overreacting. You may be scared shitless. Own your emotions – but let others own theirs, too. Pay attention to yourself and pay attention to those close to you. You may be that person who laughs at funerals but right now you also need to be the person whose shoulder gets wet from your sister’s tears. We all can be both what we need for ourselves and what others need from us. Once you’re ready to move on to a different understanding and experience of this current reality you will.
Most of us have experienced that sense of total confusion, deep despair and utter frustration when, suddenly—seemingly out of nowhere—one morning we wake up and realize that our favorite pair of jeans no longer fit. “How did this happen?” we ask ourselves. Once the shock and disbelief wears off, we get angry, blame our spouse for using the high heat cycle on the dryer and consider every possibility for how the jeans magically shrunk. The last possible reason, of course, is that we’ve slacked on exercise, not been watching our diet and gained a few pounds. Eventually, we either decide to move up a size or make some changes in order to get back into those jeans. The reason you might start or return to therapy is basically the same: you’re uncomfortable.
The discomfort I’m talking about is not your everyday “I get annoyed when my spouse doesn’t listen to me” uncomfortable. Just like with unwanted weight gain, we really don’t notice our discomfort until it significantly starts to change the way we act, think and feel. I often tell my clients, “We don’t make changes in our lives until we are sufficiently uncomfortable with the way things are right now.”
For example, you may have managed your anxiety on your own for many years—avoiding certain places and people, distracting yourself with TV and food or perhaps enjoying a few extra glasses of wine when the nerves get particularly bad. Those are all coping skills—regardless of whether they are helpful or harmful. At some point you are going to come to a place where the avoidance, distraction and self-medicating start to negatively impact your relationships, work and life. It is at that point where the coping skills become hurtful (maladaptive) and your life becomes sufficiently uncomfortable. This is the point where change can occur.
Many of you may not have that exact experience and may be wondering, “Is it time for me to go to therapy (again)?” Exploring therapy might be a good idea if you answer yes to some of the following:
Remember, reaching out to a therapist isn’t an automatic commitment for years of therapy. Most therapists are happy to provide an initial consultation so that you can make an informed choice about who you see.
And a note to those of you currently in therapy: if you feel that you and your therapist aren’t “clicking” anymore, talk to him or her! I know it can be tough to have that conversation but we’d rather have that talk than to have you sit through session after session feeling disengaged—or to have you just stop coming all together.
My thoughts and reactions to the world in which we live...completely biased and unfiltered.