How We Cope During a Time of Tension and Change
As the semester goes by and we get closer to the half-way point, it would be remiss of us to ignore the fact that it has almost been two years since campuses across the country shut down and students were forced to continue their education online. The conversation about coping mechanisms started long before the pandemic, but since the discussion of mental health has increased, so has the conversation of healthy and not-so-healthy coping mechanisms.
We all remember the trends at the beginning of the pandemic that we used to distract us from the rising death tolls. Images of sourdough bread, dalgona coffee, “Tiger King,” and Animal Crossing flooded everyone’s TikTok and Twitter feeds. I myself went through a long ABBA phase which was incredibly obnoxious to my fellow coworkers, who would make the mistake of letting me choose the music during our shifts.
Coping is a psychological response to stress which usually occurs when big changes happen. When asked what she does to cope with difficult times, local Ithacan and downtown employee Gabby Powell said, “I play Pokémon to avoid all of my responsibilities. And then I get more stressed ‘cause I’m avoiding all my responsibilities with Pokémon. And then the circle continues.”
The discussion around coping mechanisms has increased through a variety of platforms like news articles, Instagram posts, and even memes and Tweets, but what does a professional have to say on this matter since the start of the pandemic? Denise Wittlin-Horvath is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and Licensed Clinical Social Worker here in Ithaca and she has noticed an increase in both positive and negative coping methods.
“I’ve seen both positive and not-so-helpful things. I’ve seen people drink more and binge eat more and not groom themselves more. It’s kind of fascinating to me how people have reacted. For some people it feels like the end of the world and for other people it’s given them motivation to get their life going,” said Wittlin-Horvath.
She went on to mention that a lot of people with social anxiety were even relieved at the start of the pandemic.
For some people, isolation has put their lives into perspective and has given them a better understanding of how they can live a healthier, more productive life. The pandemic has given them an excuse to stop drinking and to start exercising more, to call up friends and family they have not spoken to in a while and to try new things in general.
For many people, however, social isolation has created an increase in behaviors that have a negative effect which can in turn further deplete someone’s mental health. When asked if she has noticed an increase in dangerous and unhealthy coping mechanisms,Wittlin-Horvath said, “I think people who have a tendency to do things that are not good for them are definitely acting up in dangerous ways. Especially when there are so many joking memes on the internet about using and abusing substances.”
It is true that joking about poor mental health is often used as a coping mechanism–especially among gen z students–but does making these jokes actually desensitize us to the actual issues at hand?
While Wittlin-Horvat says that she has seen an increase in unhealthy coping mechanisms, the trials and tribulations of living through a pandemic has made more people willing to talk to a counselor about their mental health.
“People in my line of work don’t have to worry about career longevity because many more people are willing to go to therapy and start taking medication,” said Wittlin-Horvath.
Therapy, however, is not always something that is easily accessible to everyone. Because more people are willing to start counseling, fewer therapists have open spots to take on new clients. I asked Wittlin-Horvath what healthy coping techniques she recommends. She said, “Go outside and breathe outside. 20 minutes a day in nature and only being mindful that you are in nature is really helpful.” She admits that a lot of her recommendations are seen as common sense but during hard times, they can be easy to forget.
One of the hardest things she says is to get a solid eight hours of sleep and to not fall asleep with your phone in your hand. Other recommendations are to keep eating healthy, turn off the TV, and go on a walk with a friend. She also mentioned that the people who have been doing the best are generally staying away from the news. It can be hard to take care of yourself and to regain motivation when the pandemic has distilled so much sadness and loss of hope in so many people. Many students have noticed a lack of motivation to complete their degrees and that their stress levels have increased since coming back to campus.
“If you’re a student, try to keep your stress levels low. If you fail a class, you can take it again. It’s only life,” said Wittlin-Horvath.
As we’ve spent the last two years struggling to come back to the reality we once knew, we have forgotten how to get back on our feet and reclaim our lives. Some people may look back fondly at the beginning of the pandemic when we were all given an extra week of spring break and our professors were more relaxed with their work loads because we were all struggling and unsure of what was to come. One thing’s for sure, and that is that we have all drastically changed over the course of the pandemic, and through this change as a society, we have learned that asking for help whether that be from a friend or a therapist is a positive thing.
Nora Marcus-Hecht is a third-year writing major who is acutely aware of society’s responses to our changing world. She can be reached at [email protected].
Art by Art Editor Adam Dee.