Apr 07, 2020 —
A new poll by Kaiser Family Foundation finds that nearly four in ten Americans feel the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health. That has experts worried about a secondary crisis that could follow the pandemic.
New York State has set up a mental health hotline with 6,000 mental health professionals to help people in need of emotional support. To consult with someone or get a referral for a provider, New Yorkers can call 1-844-863-9314. Gov. Andrew Cuomo also announced free meditation services for New Yorkers through the meditation app Headspace.
Locally, counselors are expanding their services too. Elizabeth Siematkowski is a licensed mental health counselor based in Colton, NY, in St. Lawrence County. She’s been connecting with her patients through video calls and has started a Facebook page and podcast to help people cope during this time. She spoke with NCPR to provide some tips on how to combat anxiety and fear.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity
Q: What are you hearing from your patients right now about dealing with the pandemic?
Elizabeth Siematkowski: Anxiety is uncertainty. That’s what anxiety is and we humans really don’t do well with that. You know, we want to know. We want answers. ‘What’s for dinner? Who’s gonna be there? How long is it gonna take? How long am I going to be social distancing? What’s the plan?’ And this pandemic really isn’t clear. We don’t have those answers.
So all of us humans deal with some level of anxiety. And when we experience a crisis, that’s going to really flare up. So with that, a lot of our negative coping skills also flare up. I’ve really been inviting clients and people that I’m trying to connect with to really just shift from being critical of yourself and ourselves at this time to being compassionate — because it’s already hard enough. So that extra judgment or expectation about what we should be doing and how we should be feeling is really just depleting our energy that we need to move through this time.
Q: What would you tell someone who maybe has never been in therapy, or maybe not recently been to therapy, and are feeling these negative feelings and anxieties? What’s something they can do today to address some of those fears that they’re having?
E.S.: What I would invite is to really just honor what you’re feeling. When we feel uncomfortable, we tend to want to to avoid that feeling. Right? We don’t like that. Like, “Ah! I’m uncomfortable. Let me do something to distract myself or numb it out or run away from it.” But I would invite you just to honor that. It would be really strange if someone wasn’t feeling upset or affected by this on some level.
And then try to help make yourself feel as comfortable as possible. Make a playlist. Listen to an album cover-to-cover because you’ve got the time. Lay on your floor and listen to an entire album. Make a complex meal. Use your hands. The more time on our hands, the less depressed we are because we’re more present.
So call someone, have a long conversation. Do something that’s going to make you feel comfortable. … Read a book, go for a walk, get some fresh air. We are blessed that we live in the North Country, even though we might still meet a man and a hat, we’re tough! We can handle it. We can hang with it.
So go outside and just change up your mood. Do a two minute dance party, you know, just honor and then move with it. That’s what I would would share.
Q: What do you tell someone who’s looking for a therapist? I know that’s been a struggle for me in the past is where do I even begin to look for someone to talk to?
E.S.: That’s a great question, because kind of that first call is really scary. You know, it’s like … ‘What is that even going to look like?’ And it’s something … there’s still a feeling of, ‘I should be able to do this on my own. I’m weak for needing help. So coming into therapy is you helping yourself. That’s a tool in your wellness arsenal now.
That’s something that you have initiated for your life to set aside that time for you to take care of your mind and your emotions. So that’s something I’m surprised that I still hear. So my first thing would be: you are helping yourself by getting some additional support … and also everyone in your life by doing that as well. And I’m also aware that individuals might be afraid financially just to spend money.
I would say there are some great telehealth organizations out there now, but I would pay attention when looking at those. You know, there’s BetterHelp [and] Talkspace. But when you’re looking into telehealth, I would be really specific about what credentials does this individual have. Really making sure that you’re meeting with a licensed professional. And if you’re not, if it’s a life coach or something like that, just really being mindful of who is it that I’m meeting with and what’s their background? …
And then also try it. Maybe give it one or two sessions, and if you just aren’t connecting with the individual, that’s OK. Find someone else. There’s a difference between, ‘I don’t like therapy because it’s uncomfortable and I’m talking about hard stuff’ or ‘this therapist is not — I’m not feeling comfortable or safe.’ So I would not be afraid to try someone new if you’ve given it a couple tries.