Summit County therapists provide coping mechanisms, as community members deal with anxiety from the election, fires and pandemic
FRISCO — The combination of the presidential election, wildfires burning across Colorado and the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic has contributed to increased unease and anxiety among people in Summit County.
“If you just start off with the uncertainty of the pandemic and the fact that we don’t know what’s going to come out of this, that is really looming over everything,” said Jen McAtamney, executive director of Building Hope.
The shared anxiety and unease that comes with 2020 is new for many people. As world events collide in new ways, many are finding it hard to look away from the constant chatter on social media and in the news.
The uncontrollable nature of world events plays a major part in how people respond to them, said Andrea Brown, a psychologist and therapist at Slopeside Counseling in Keystone.
“If you have a baseline of general anxiety and then these things around you start to occur, the challenge is magnified, because it just adds to the already self-belief that you can’t control something that’s happening around you,” she said.
For people with post-traumatic stress disorder, the outside events can be even more damaging, said Brown, who specializes in trauma.
“These events that we’re having now are feeling greater or larger, because not only do we fear these things, but people with PTSD, we’re pulling up old events because our brain begins to start linking to other times we have felt that fear or other times we have felt out of control or helpless,” she said.
The need to control and the inability for people to do so right now manifests in heightened stress, anxiety and depression.
However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing people can do about it.
Therapists across the county are providing coping mechanisms for their clients who find themselves struggling with the current events.
Understand what’s in your control
“The biggest factor around handling anxiety is knowing what’s in your control and what’s not and having that reflection,” said Mary Kraatz, who works as both a private counselor and a counselor at Summit School District.
When working with clients, Kraatz does an exercise where the client traces their hand on a piece of paper. Inside the hand, the client lists the things which are in their control. Outside of the hand, the client writes what is out of their control.
“Just knowing that something’s not in your control can help you engage your thinking brain instead of your feeling brain,” she said.
Reduce media consumption
Something that is in everyone’s control is their media consumption. Kraatz, McAtamney and Brown all suggest that people should take a break from social media and news.
“I have tasked many of my clients with removing social media from their phone,” Brown said. “We see the red buttons and notifications and we have to jump right on it and see what’s happening.”
Brown said a good first step to reducing media intake in one’s life is turn off the notifications for apps such as Twitter and Facebook. Brown also suggests that people allow space between themselves and the news by setting a timer before they reach for their phone.
“We want to be the first one to know, right? (It’s) human curiosity,” Brown said. “Allow the news to come out and play out a little bit before you read it.”
Talk with others
McAtamney suggested something everyone can do to help the community cope in an uneasy time is talk to each other about how they’re feeling.
“Ask for the help that you need,” she said. “Let people know you’re struggling and, oftentimes, what you’ll find is that they’re struggling too, especially in these times.”
McAtamney’s organization, Building Hope, offers connectedness events throughout Summit County. Often consisting of activities like yoga, art and meditation, the events serve as a way to see others in the community and escape from everything going on in the world.
• Colorado Crisis Services: 844-493-8255 or text “talk” to 38255
• For life-threatening emergencies, call 911
“Your feelings of connectedness — whether it’s feeling connected to a community, to a family, wherever that is — is directly correlated to your mental health, as well as your physical health,” McAtamney said.
Reach out for help
McAtamney, Kraatz and Brown all agreed the best thing a person can do for themselves, however, is reach out for help when they feel they need it. Building Hope and the Family & Intercultural Resource Center both offer mental health navigation, which serves as a starting point for people who don’t know where to go.
“We want people to realize that when we’re feeling feelings of depression and anxiety, that just like you would get help for your knees or your shoulder, it’s important to be able to reach out,” McAtamney said. “Know that there are therapeutic supports and community options for you that are accessible and completely reasonable for you to engage with.”
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