How long will it take to recover from the ‘lost year’ of COVID?
New Jersey officials estimate that COVID-19 vaccinations will be available to the general public by the spring, just about exactly a year since the coronavirus threw everyone's lives into upheaval.
For those who have survived either the virus itself or its many socioeconomic impacts, the Third Eye Blind song "Losing A Whole Year" may seem apropos.
But the mark COVID-19 has left mentally and emotionally goes deeper than that, and could last well into 2021 — and perhaps beyond.
Dr. Rachel Strohl, senior psychologist with Stress & Anxiety Services of NJ, said people have been steeling themselves to expect the unexpected for 10 months, going from the anxiety and uncertainty of the initial outbreak to the relative freedom of the summer, to renewed isolation and the spectre of winter shutdowns even as vaccines provide a "shot of hope."
And as exhausting as it might seem, Strohl said even those without prior anxiety disorders have been working hard to normalize their feelings of elevated stress, and must find productive ways to continue to do so for just a little longer.
"There's just been a tremendous variation in terms of our transitioning to this new normal, so it's been a term we've used, it's been a term we've been experiencing," she said. "We live in the Northeast, we're up in a colder environment. How do we winterize our mental health, and how do we make sure that the things we enjoyed over the summer during this pandemic, we can do in the winter?"
Strohl talks in terms of managing and even "challenging" your anxiety, to accept some level of uncertainty in your life, and to balance it with creative and familiar activities that fit within your optimal comfort level.
Through that approach, she said, New Jerseyans can actually improve their threshold for resilience, and ability to "bounce back."
"As much as we look to science for the answers, and we want to understand what's happening, it's also OK to accept that we're in this period of transition and uncertainty," Strohl said.
Taking into account the tremendous loss of human life the virus has brought, leaving virtually no one in the state untouched by its scourge, Strohl said it's important to "be kind" to those losses and reframe them as a springboard for growth.
And also keep in mind: This is not forever, it's still only temporary, and we can get through it.
"That version of temporary was much longer than any of us anticipated, for sure, but I think it does speak to the fact that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel," Strohl said.
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