Hamil R. HarrisHealth

Coping With COVID-19: Counselors, Educators, Faith Leader Speak Out

A vaccine for COVID-19 is making the rounds but, with more than 400,000 people dead in the U.S., life permanently altered, officials, counselors and the clergy are struggling to help people cope with stress a year after the virus erupted in the Washington region.

While parents are holding down jobs in one part of the house while their children are taking class in another part, this self-quarantine era has meant tremendous lifestyle changes. Dining out in a restaurant has shifted to carryout. Movie theaters are closed and attending spirit filled worship services has shifted to Zoom, Facebook live and other online outlets.

Rev. Grainger Browning is pastor of the Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fort Washington. Even though his congregation is meeting on-line he still stands in the pulpit of his massive sanctuary to preach.

“No one is in the church and about 10 people are in the choir loft but one of our members who is a former gang member is very creative and he uses technology. We are in a series about Revelation and he made it look like I was in the movie Star Wars.”

Even though most people don’t venture far from homes and social distancing and wearing a mask is part of the order of the day, Dr. Jessica Smedley, a clinical psychologist who practices in the District, said embracing faith is a key to coping with mental stress. For parents of young children this period has been particularly challenging.

“Parents are starting to hit a wall for what I can tell,” Smedley said in an interview. “We want them to go back to school but we are struggling with this new variant of the virus. Teachers are not vaccinated yet and I think that there is a lot of stress from children who have to do work at home to parents who have to work at home.”

In addition parents and their children, Smedley said adding, “Sometimes we see a trickle-down effect among parents in terms of relationship stress between the parents struggling with anxiety, increased worry or depressive symptoms or struggling with motivation, that is a big one, the motivation to function in a limited capacity.”

In addition to being a science teacher at Charles Carroll Middle School, Ed Snowden has been a basketball coach for many years in Prince George’s County and in Baltimore. Snowden said this past year has been really challenging for young athletes. “How can I inspire them to go to the next level when they don’t know what the next level looks like.

Snowden said that even though the gyms are closed he encourages the young athletes to come up with a conditioning plan and to host group chats, “Where they can come together and fellowship.”

Allison Prince, a pupil placement specialist with the Montgomery County Public School told the Washington Informer that she has been working with administrators and teachers for the last year to help them to work with their students and she too is a parent with a son in college.

“Since the onset of COVID and virtual leaning, the case load for educators and staff has really increased,” Prince said. “For teachers and students the key word is well-being. We want to reinforce the relationships between school and community. We want to reassure the students that they are going to be okay and safe.”

“As parents, caregivers and educators we all have a critical role and responsibility to play to ensure the well-being of the children,” Prince said. “The key word is calming through emotional cures because so many things have happened and things seem to be out of control.”

Rev. Browning said despite what is going on now expecting a brighter future is crucial. “We must start to re-imagine what our future is going to be. We can choose to be in despair or we can choose hope.”

Multiple agencies and the counselors have identified signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression among adults and there are many similarities:

• Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration
• Changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests
• Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
• Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
• Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes
• Worsening of chronic health problems
• Worsening of mental health conditions
• Increased use of tobacco, alcohol, and other substances

The CDC also offers what they call healthy ways to cope:

Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media.

Take care of your body.

• Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate external icon.
• Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
• Exercise regularly.
• Get plenty of sleep.
• Avoid excessive alcohol, tobacco, and substance use.
• Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
• Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

Connect with your community- or faith-based organizations.

Resources and social support services available include the following:

• Food and Food System Resources During COVID-19 Pandemic
• Disaster Financial Assistance with Food, Housing, and Bills
• Coronavirus Resources for Rent.ers

U.S. Department of Labor Coronavirus Resources

• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline : 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish, or Lifeline Crisis Chat.
• National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522
• National Child Abuse Hotlineexternal icon: 1-800-4AChild (1-800-422-4453) or text 1-800-422-4453
• National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or Online Chat
• Veteran’s Crisis Line: 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or Crisis Chat text: 8388255
• Disaster Distress Helpline: CALL or TEXT 1-800-985-5990 (press 2 for Spanish).
• The Eldercare Locator: 1-800-677-1116– TTY Instruction

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Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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