By Dr. Marilyn Susman— RIGHT NOW, IN ADDITION to the major losses of life, jobs and income in society, each of us is experiencing individual losses such as the end of Fulbright grants, separation from family and friends, missed graduations, and other lost opportunities. We have also lost the predictability that we take for granted such going to work or class, having our favorite foods available in the grocery store or going to a local restaurant to meet friends.
I have been in the field of psychology for many years as both an academic and clinical psychologist. I was fortunate to be a Fulbright Scholar in Malaysia, Cyprus and Indonesia, where I developed long lasting relationships across borders. That is what we stand for as Fulbrighters—bridging cultural divides to build a global community. This pandemic is testing our core values, as we are now forced to shelter in place and avoid actual contact with family, friends and colleagues.
There are many practical concerns that other Chicago alumni will address. I want to focus on the mental health challenges that many may be experiencing. As the CDC says on its website, “It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry”. The challenge is how to find equilibrium in the face of all of the uncertainty in our lives. Developing routines that include the following will help you to cope with the pandemic, including the isolation and loneliness that sheltering in place causes.
A simple plan
- Focusing on your physical well-being: Eat well, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep. Avoid alcohol, tobacco and other drugs
- Connecting with others: Set up virtual get-togethers with friends and/or family. Share your concerns with them
- Staying informed, but avoiding too much exposure to news: Information may calm your anxiety, but too much exposure can be upsetting. Balancing your watching, reading or listening to news with enjoyable activities will help
- Taking breaks: Make time to unwind. Reading a novel, going for walks, listening to music, doing an art project can be an antidote to stress
- Calming yourself with mindfulness: Many apps exist to help you to defuse your anxiety. Some are “Headspace”, “Simply Being” and “Calm”. Each provides for some free sessions. Practicing mindfulness is also an antidote to anxiety and depression
- Being realistic about work: If working remotely, or on a project, set aside a time and place to work alone or in virtual meetings. Being disciplined may help you to accomplish your goals and tasks, providing a feeling of accomplishment. But do give yourself leeway.
Watch out for symptoms
Despite exercising the above you may still feel unsettled. Although the pandemic itself and our sheltering in place may cause each of us to experience some of the following, be aware when these become extreme or overwhelming.
- Feelings of anxiety, depression, loss and grief
- Changes in appetite, energy or activity level
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
- Physical reactions such as headaches, body pains, stomach problem or skin rashes
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Anger or short-tempered
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.
So, what can I do?
If you are experiencing the above symptoms and want to talk with a counselor, many resources are available. Please go to the following crisis units depending on your locality.
These resources were taken from the Open Counseling list of resources for the Chicago area. If you would like to discuss any of these resources with me or to consult me about your particular concern, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Chicago Department of Health, Bureau of Mental Health. Care that can provide supports for emotional, traumatic, or behavioral difficulties. Based on the needs identified by the consumer which includes goals, objectives and specific mental health services. For 24-hour assistance or to report a public health issue, call phone 311
Mental Health Association of Greater Chicago. According to its website works to eliminate the unnecessary loss of life due to suicide focusing on mental health for children, adolescents, emerging adults, families and veterans. Their programs uniquely covers identification, prevention and support. They also provide both a prevention plan (nutrition, environment, avoidance of food additives and other causes of mental health symptoms and illnesses) and education on brain health.
310 S Peoria St, Chicago, IL 60607
Phone 800-209-8114 or 1-800-273-TALK
NorthShore University HealthSystem. The Department of Psychiatry and Crisis Intervention provides a variety of crisis related services focused on the individual patients needs:
- 24 hour coverage, 7 days a week
- A Crisis Hotline for those in psychiatric crisis
- Emergency psychiatric evaluations to patients in the Emergency Department at all four Northshore Hospitals
- Short term counseling
- Evaluation and outpatient crisis counseling
- Emergent medical social service calls
- Workshops on crisis-related subjects to various hospitals and community groups.
- Responds to community crisis when appropriate
OMNI Youth Services. According to its website, their mission is to partner with parents and the community to provide innovative, transformational behavioral and educational support services to children, adolescents and young adults. Their services include counseling, 24-hour crisis intervention, substance abuse prevention and treatment, family strengthening, juvenile justice services, youth development and community outreach services. They are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center. It takes courage to ask for help. If you or a loved one has ever been sexually abused or assaulted, ZCenter offers free, confidential services in English and Spanish to support you, significant others and non-offending loved ones on your healing journey. There are individual or group counseling for adults and children.
Zacharias 24-Hour Support Line 847-872-7799
Chicago Rape Crisis Hotline. Operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the Rape Crisis Hotlines provides survivors of sexual violence and their significant others immediate support, crisis intervention and referrals for the city of Chicago and surrounding suburbs. The volunteers and staff at the hotline have received extensive training in sexual assault crisis intervention. The Chicago Rape Crisis Hotline is also the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) affiliate for the city of Chicago.
Phone Chicago 888-293-2080
Phone DuPage County 630-971-3927
Phone South Suburbs 708-748-5672
—> Information curated by Dr. Marilyn Susman
—> Illustration by Elio Leturia