Talk Traces Pandemic’s Effects, Offers Healing
By Lynne Conner, Observer Correspondent
September 23, 2021
ROCKFORD—The statistics are staggering. In 2020, nationwide alcohol sales went up 262 percent, 40 percent of adults in the U.S. reported mental health or substance abuse issues (with 81 percent of those struggling not getting needed treatment) and 93,000 drug overdose deaths were recorded in the nation — showing a 29 percent increase over 2019.
These figures are directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Mary Gubbe Lee, MS, LSW, LCPC, a training consultant and NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) volunteer. Lee gave a talk on Sept. 16 at the Cathedral of St. Peter about the physical and mental effects of the pandemic and offered hope for healing. 
“Having to do things like social distancing and wearing masks makes people feel alone, isolated and not connected with others. We don’t do as much hugging or have as much social interaction which really impacts our brain chemistry,” Lee said. 
How to care for yourself during COVID-19
Physical self-care 
  • Eat regularly and healthfully
  • Exercise
  • Get enough sleep
  • Get massages
  • Do a fun activity
  • Stay home when you’re feeling sick 
  • Get preventative medical care 
  • Get medical care when needed
  • Take vacations or day trips
  • Get away from cell phones, email, Twitter and the news
Emotional self-care
  • Treat yourself kindly
  • Feel proud of yourself
  • Find things that make you laugh
  • Allow yourself to cry
  • Reread favorite books,  watch favorite movies
  • Seek out comforting activities, objects, people,  relationships and places
  • Express your outrage in a constructive way
  • Spend time with others whose company you enjoy
  • Stay in contact with important people in your life
Spiritual self-care
  • Make time for prayer, 
  • meditation and reflection
  • Spend time in nature
  • Participate in a spiritual 
  • community or group
  • Sing
  • Express gratitude
  • Cherish your optimism and hope
  • Be aware of nontangible aspects of life
  • Identify what is meaningful to you
  • Celebrate milestones
  • Memorialize loved ones who have died
  • Nurture others
  • Have awe-filled experiences
  • Contribute to or participate in causes you believe in
  • Read inspirational literature and listen to inspiring music or podcasts
Help someone with anxiety or depression
  • Assess for risk of suicide or harm
  • Listen without judgment
  • Give reassurance and information
  • Encourage appropriate professional help
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: Text “hello”
to 741741
Compiled by Lynne Conner and Mary Gubbe Lee
“Hugs are so important because they raise a chemical in our bodies called oxytocin which is a stress reducer,” Lee said. “So here we are, stressed, and we don’t give each other hugs which make us feel welcomed, accepted and safe.”
Lee spoke about a rise what she called the ‘big four’. “We have seen an off-the-charts increase in PTSD, anxiety disorder, depression and substance use disorder. If you had one of these prior to the pandemic it probably got worse, while many people got these illnesses during the past 18 months.”
“The bad news is: what we’re going through during this pandemic changes our brains. The neuro-plasticity, or the stretchy-ness of our brains, has changed; but the good news is that we can change that neuro-plasticity back,” Lee said. “We just have to know how to do it and how to help each other do it. But we can change it back.”
“Be kind to your mind and be kind to your neighbors. Participate in the activities that release those good brain chemicals dopamine, serotonin and endorphin,” Lee said. “Dopamine gives you that feeling of a reward. If you can complete a daily task, have a goal and be able to cross it off your list, that releases dopamine and you feel rewarded.”
Lee also encouraged those gathered to participate in physical, emotional and spiritual activities that help the brain to release serotonin, a mood stabilizer, and endorphins, pain relieving chemicals.
Dolores Ford, of Holy Family Parish, attended Lee’s talk and said that she can see a change in people’s behaviors since the pandemic began. “People seem to lack social behaviors after being isolated from others. That’s the number one difference I’ve seen,” Ford said. “I’ve tried to maintain friendships through phone conversations, so I don’t lose that connection that I’ve made with my friends throughout the years.”
Cathedral of St. Peter parishioners Mary Ann Rotello and her daughter Rosanne both lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic and have been doing many of the activities Lee suggested in her presentation.
“I realize that there’s not a lot I can do about the pandemic so I read, I knit, I work puzzles and I go to the store,” Mary Ann said. 
“We’ve quarantined so that my mother wouldn’t have to be alone the whole time,” Rosanne said. “We have tried to be as active as we could within the parameters of what’s available. 
“I think the loneliness and isolation people feel is the hardest part of the pandemic. It’s a whole life change but I look forward to better and brighter days ahead.” 
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