‘Life is not normal right now,’ notes Cambridge psychologist

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By Ed Karvoski Jr., Culture Editor

Pamela Enders, Ph.D.
Photo/Bob Bond

Cambridge – The coronavirus pandemic has created an uncertain and unprecedented era with common day-to-day terminology such as essential workers, flattening the curve, mandatory face masks, relaxing restrictions, senior shopping hours, social distancing, stay-at-home advisory and reopening the country. Add to the list a sobering daily update of the COVID-19 death toll.

Currently working remotely, Pamela Enders, Ph.D., of Cambridge is discussing this topic regularly in her practice as a psychologist at Enders & Weber, P.C. Additionally, she’s offering time for her friends to share their concerns via a telehealth video platform or phone call. Based on her professional and personal conversations, she has observed a significant evolution of reactions within the fairly brief time period since the outbreak began.

“At first, it was almost a novelty and interesting that we need to quarantine ourselves,” Enders said of comments she heard. “As the weeks have gone by, there’s a weariness that has set in – along with tension and anxiety. The anxiety is not only about one’s own situation, it’s also about soaking up worries from around the world because we have so much easy access to the news. That kind of worry is contagious.”

Staying confined at home for so long – and in many cases also working from home – can pose the challenge of resisting temptations of binge behavior, Enders noted.

“People are numbing themselves out by watching lots of TV and overeating – and I can be as guilty at that as anybody,” she acknowledged. “There is that desire to numb out, but there is also great joy in being connected and fully awake in the moment – even if it’s only for a few moments here and there.”

While stress from the global health crisis can be complex, Enders points out the effectiveness of a simple gesture extended to family and friends.

“In my therapy work, I’ve certainly been seeing a yearning for connection with other people,” she relayed. “Brief phone calls can mean the world to some people who are feeling more isolated now. That’s where we all can work to reach out and help one another. We see loneliness at all levels and this situation is certainly intensifying it.”

People in quarantine are also spending more time on digital devices as a pastime. However, approximately a third of respondents over age 65 told Pew Research Center that they’re not confident about using digital technology and some lack broadband connection. For them, Enders suggests considering other activities including crossword puzzles, coloring books for adults, and knitting or crocheting.

According to a another poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), about a quarter of respondents are having trouble concentrating on anything other than the pandemic. The constant reminder of COVID-19 has become synonymous with another common phrase: the new normal.

“We all need to recognize that life is not normal right now,” Enders advised. “There’s a general brain fog that we’re all experiencing. We can choose to either get upset about it or to let go of what we have no control over. Let’s not worry about clutter around the house or even getting things done. Sometimes the attitude of ‘the hell with it’ is perfectly OK. Accept what is true right now.”

The APA poll also revealed that older Americans are less anxious about COVID-19 than the younger respondents. Enders agrees with the poll’s finding.

“Not that we’ve ever experienced anything like this before, but we older folks have lived long enough to have encountered stress, hard work, disappointment, loss and heartache – and we’ve gotten through it,” she said. “We have a perspective that helps us in these situations.”