On March 14, it will be one year since the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed on Cape Cod. Three days later, Gov. Charlie Baker shut down schools and all but essential businesses statewide.
How well are we coping? Do we need to find additional help? The Cape Cod COVID-19 Response Task Force and MassSupport Network sponsored a livestreamed forum, “Season of Change, Coping During COVID,” on Feb. 24. People may be lonely, separated from friends and family, or living with OCD. Some are disappointed because their proms, graduations and even weddings have been held virtually. Others are grieving the loss of loved ones. Speakers at the forum offered tips and resources on coping with the public health crisis.
“I don’t know about the rest of you, but it’s kind of blowing me away that we’ve been at this for a year now,” said Larry Berkowitz, director and co-founder of the Riverside Trauma Center.
State Senator Julian Cyr introduced the 90-minute forum noting that the task force brought together stakeholders from the health communities, chambers of commerce and more. And he added that he himself attends therapy sessions, as it’s important to talk about self-care and mental health needs.
Berkowitz praised Cyr as a role model, adding, “it’s not easy for anyone.” He later noted that men are typically less likely than women to seek therapy. Yet “it’s a sign of strength to reach out and get help.”
Berkowitz then offered a PowerPoint presentation on coping. He began by saying that stress is normal, a physiological reaction to perceived threats. If you have no stress, life can be boring, and you may “rust out.” Too much stress, though, results in burnout. For each person, there is an optimum level of stress. Brief stress is positive, temporary stress is tolerable, and prolonged stress is toxic. Trauma can become overwhelming and result in a loss of control, vulnerability, immobilization. During the pandemic, stress is not evenly distributed.
“Some of us are lucky to be working from home,” he said, while others must work in-person.
One thing we need is safety. To feel safe, you may need to limit your watching of the news while monitoring reliable sources of information such as the CDC and Johns Hopkins websites. We also need predictability in our lives. It’s good to go to bed and get up at roughly the same time each day, for example.
We also need to control those things that we can control. The takeaway is that we “may all be vulnerable, but not powerless.” You can go for a walk and exercise at home. You can pay attention to the natural beauty of Cape Cod. Focus on your strengths. “What are we doing well? What gets us through?” Also, Berkowitz reminded participants that “we’re really in this together.”
You need to divide what you can control from what you can’t control. This reminds him of the serenity prayer that ends, “and give one the wisdom to know the differences.”
Resilience means that you can be stretched like a rubber band and have “a positive, adaptive approach.” Yet while focusing on the positive, you are not denying that things are difficult. This transforms toxic stress to tolerable stress.
Areas to concentrate on are physical, interpersonal, emotional, cognitive, behavioral and spiritual fitness. “Maybe we can begin building in some of these six areas to take care of ourselves,” Berkowitz said.
Representatives of several groups highlighted various types of support that are available on Cape Cod. Elizabeth Rego is the Southeast Team Leader for MassSupport’s crisis counseling program, which offers community outreach to youth and adults statewide. The services are free, confidential and anonymous and are offered by a diverse, multi-lingual team. Call MassSupport at 888-215-4920 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and a team member will call you back.
Kolby Andrade of MassSupport’s Crisis Counseling Program, spoke of techniques of self care. “You fall seven times, and stand up eight,” she said. It’s important to self-regulate and calm down when upset, particularly during a global pandemic when every day is “Groundhog Day.” You can maintain a positive outlook by asking yourself, “what went good today?” The “three r’s” of self-care are reflection, regulation, and relaxation. Notice your patterns — “what do I need right now?” Failure represents an opportunity to grow.
Lorraine Ward, deputy director for SNAP, noted that food insecurity is up during the pandemic. She encouraged people to reach out. Maximum benefits for a household of two is now $600. “The stigma that goes with SNAP is a big thing for us that we want to overcome.”
And Cassi Danzl of the Housing Assistance Corporation said that programs are also available for helping with rent and mortgage payments. “We’re here to help the community and regions.” Confidential applications are online.
During a question and answer session, participants asked how they might maintain social networks. Berkowitz suggested scheduling regular Zoom calls and scheduling outdoor walks while practicing social distancing and wearing masks. Reach out to “the people around you you’re not hearing from,” he said.
For more information and resources, visit MassSupport.org.