It should be no surprise that the pandemic has impacted everyone’s mental health in one way or another.

It is OK to not feel like your pre-COVID self.

Since March 2020, life as we knew it has turned upside down: People went into isolation, schools transitioned to online learning, and workplaces did layoffs or furloughs, or sent employees to work from home.

Every single person on this planet had a new life after the pandemic went into full effect.

I was fortunate enough to work through the entire pandemic, but my partner was laid off as a behavioral coach for kids with autism. Luckily he was able to find a new job about two months later.

Admittedly, I was excited to be home with my cat and partner. In April of last year, we built a fort and learned how to play chess. This is a happy memory for me.

As the pandemic went on, the effects of isolation set in.

One of my favorite parts of being a reporter pre-COVID was going to events and interacting with people there. I got to go to the Mayor’s Gala in 2019, which was fun and had a magician theme.

I reported on the business expo at the Rio Rancho Events Center, and heard from small-business owners and saw their passion behind what they offered.

My favorite event to cover was the county fair; I got to hug a brown, fluffy cow.

These social engagements were the perks of my position. I looked forward to them, and I did not know this before the pandemic, but they motivated me as a reporter.

Seeing the best parts of Sandoval County and Rio Rancho was inspiring and made me proud to live and report here.

My positive interactions when reporting in the city and county usually outweighed the negative, until the pandemic.

My experience of increasingly negative, frustrating or stressful situations is not unique.

I spoke to psychologist Stacey Goldstein-Dwyer, who owns GD Psych Services LLC in Rio Rancho, about the effects COVID has had.

Because of the challenges COVID has presented, some outcomes can be:

  •   • Divorce,
  •   • Increased anger,
  •   • Increased anxiety,
  •   • Domestic violence,
  •   • Parents becoming intolerant to frustration,
  •   • Loneliness,
  •   • Self-harming, or
  •   • Suicidal ideation, attempt or completion.

“People are recognizing now that their mental health is less stable as a result of isolating,” Goldstein-Dwyer said.

Children, in particular, have had to cope with constant changes with schooling.

“Kids that were functioning just fine are now experiencing a lot of depression, anxiety or individual kids falling behind academically,” she said.

Learning disorders that parents may have not been aware of before the pandemic are now apparent. Goldstein-Dwyer sees this as a positive because children can receive the help they need.

Other pluses are families who have quarantined together were able to bond without outside influences, sometimes strengthening relationships, she said.

“You’re spending way more time with family at home and not at work. Even if you’re working from home, you’re still with the family, and I think people have also learned these abilities to multi-task a lot more than in the past because they didn’t have to use that skill set,” Goldstein-Dwyer said.

With COVID adding a layer of worry to doing daily or weekly tasks, like going to the grocery store, people now feel constant anxiety. It would be easy to write out a few quick coping techniques, but mental health treatment is unique to the individual.

Seeking guidance from a professional would be much more ideal than getting it from a column. Help is more accessible than ever, with telehealth options, setting up an appointment online or accessing a hotline. A list of a few resources will be attached to the end of this piece.

However, reaching out for help can be the hardest step to take, and it starts by practicing self-awareness.

“Self-awareness really slowly creeps up on you, and most people think, ‘Not me — I don’t need mental health (treatment),’ and all of a sudden, it starts to become overwhelming,” Goldstein-Dwyer said.

When reflecting on yourself, think of any personality changes you may be having, or a change in your concentration.

People may recognize they are making errors they would not normally make or are struggling to complete tasks that weren’t difficult before, she said.

“So all of these things just start to add up, feeling more anxious, or not wanting to have to call anybody or talk to anybody that day,” Goldstein-Dwyer said.

There is no shame in seeking treatment, especially after the year we have all had.

Things will never be the way they were pre-COVID. Some changes are here to stay, and COVID has made a lasting impression on our social culture.

It is expected to grieve the good old days, but you can only move forward in life.

To set an appointment or learn more information about GD Psych Services, visit gdpsychservices.com or call 218-6383.

Other mental health resources include:

  •   • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
  •   • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
  •   • Agora Crisis Center helpline at 505-277-3013.
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Assistant Editor at Rio Rancho Observer