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Here to Help

Life for many has settled back into its pre-pandemic routine, though maybe with a little more caution and other behavioral adaptations that come from living through that unprecedented societal upheaval. 

But even with a few seasons of getting reacclimated to “the old normal,” the psychological damage born of constant uncertainty, long-term isolation and a world gripped by fear still lingers and has yet to be resolved for a number of individuals, as those in the business of guiding their neighbors back to optimal mental wellness can handily attest to.  

If there’s a silver lining to be found, though, it’s that a population pushed to its emotional limits has led to a greater number of people seeking the support and guidance of qualified mental-health professionals to help them reclaim their most well-adjusted and happiest selves. 

“[The pandemic] actually forced people to deal with their mental health,” says Dan Marcone, licensed mental health counselor, clinical supervisor and founder of Seasons Counseling Orlando. “The anxiety levels that we saw prior to the pandemic were elevated; during and after the pandemic, because isolation and uncertainty are anxiety boomers, those two factors have, I think, created another anxiety epidemic, exacerbating depression, anxiety and aloneness, and heightening typical anxieties that might have been managed fairly well before but now need treatment.” 

That chronic mental unwellness can manifest in a number of physical or psychosomatic issues that compromise one’s all-over health, regardless if they’ve been struggling with under-treated mental illness for years or have only recently begun to feel that their emotional health has become compromised.

“With anxiety and depression, typically, whatever ailment you have—chronic pain, back pain, headaches, diabetes, hypertension—that ailment will be worse,” says Dr. Matt Angelelli of Orlando Health, who adds that the relationship between being physically and mentally unwell goes both ways. “I have more people coming in with two things that seem to happen: One is after they have COVID, they started getting tinnitus, which is ringing in the ears, which was driving them crazy or overwhelming them emotionally because they couldn’t stand listening to it. The other thing is that people just starting having panic attacks after COVID—and these would be highly successful people who never had a mental illness, always showed up at work, perfectly hardworking Americans who, out of the blue, suddenly can’t function.” 

And while it’s imperative to be there for those in their greatest moments of need, many care providers are working to flip the script so going to a trained therapist or counselor is seen as a healthy habit akin to working out at the gym to stay fit rather than a desperate bid to pull themselves out of a crisis. 

“I think we need to change the dialogue around ‘mental health’ and encourage people to seek counseling or therapy to support wellness, instead of only for diagnosing and treating unwanted symptoms,” says April Boykin at Counseling Resource Services. “You don’t have to have a diagnosis of anxiety to benefit from mindfulness exercises. And, in fact, if you can learn mindfulness techniques, you are better equipped to manage the stress in our life contributing to anxiety, depression, etc.”

It is decidedly helpful that the younger generations embrace openly discussing their own journeys, from taking ownership of their mental states to establishing boundaries, from being vocal about reaching their own limits to inviting others to eschew the embarrassment and shame that have needlessly accompanied disclosing their challenges for far too long.

“Generally, what I’m seeing is that millennials and especially Gen Z are much more likely to bring up mental health as a part of their lives,” observes Matt Bubalo, a licensed clinical mental health counselor at K2 Medical Research. “It’s really become accepted as a safe way to frame the challenges people have and to explain that they are really struggling internally with things like stress, depression and anxiety without being super detailed about it.” 

And while it’s a promising trend that the younger generations are demonstrating such a widespread willingness to normalize and destigmatize talking about their mental health struggles, strategies and successes, there is some danger in that open dialogue happening without some professional input. 

The advent of psychological terminology entering mainstream conversation comes with risks like an unmitigated spread of misinformation or how anyone with a platform can masquerade as qualified professionals dispensing seemingly sound advice, and that skewed narrative can complicate the formal diagnostic process—which is why it is critical to trust your well-being with those trained in the intricacies of navigating something as complex as the psychological arena.

“Sites like Reddit can be really interesting for some things but they can steer you in the wrong direction because there’s so many people talking—you can jump in and ‘listen’ to a conversation for a while but you can’t necessarily test the validity of what’s being said,” says Bubalo. “You should focus on more trusted websites, like hospital websites, the Mayo Clinic, those kinds of resources … One of the major mistakes people make when they’re trying to self-diagnose is putting too much emphasis on the wrong area and then they start to over-identify with that diagnosis, so a lot of the time what I feel like I’m doing is helping people zoom out a little bit.” 

While the internet shouldn’t replace proper diagnostic channels, that availability of resources can help shed light on one’s mental state in an accessible way. 

“I would say that the internet is always a mixed bag: It can give insight and information in a way that someone might not realize they are experiencing a symptom that can be improved, but it may also cause more stress due to internalizing something that may not fit,” Boykin adds. “So if you are easily triggered, stressed or overwhelmed, then avoid googling symptoms and just talk to counselor.”

After all, getting non-biased, well-informed feedback from a qualified mental-health professional is a surefire way to adopt coping skills that actually help, rather than just spinning one’s wheels in a cycle of behaviors that feel like self-care but aren’t effectively encouraging improved psychological wellness—and may, in fact, be actively working against an individual’s progress. 

Dr. Angelelli explains coping mechanisms as a four-part hierarchy of effectiveness, with only one truly healthy, effective option. At the bottom is using drugs and alcohol, “the way most people cope with stress;” one up from that at level three is going to rehab once substance use becomes substance abuse, where “you’re done drinking but you’re not working on your problems;” the second tier is throwing oneself at hobbies, where they’re engaged but “still not working on themselves and will also become exhausted.” Level one, however, is where one’s healing journey actually begins.

“There’s kind of an emotional bank account, and there are things that take away and there’s things that fill you up,” he explains. “When it’s getting low, like you just don’t think you can deal with things anymore, you need to see a therapist. … The only [coping mechanism] I’ve seen work is people talking through things with somebody else. Journaling is probably second best but, if you don’t interact with somebody else to sort things out, you will stay stuck right where you’re at and you will gradually deteriorate. It’s like saying, ‘I’m going to stay in shape by doing nothing.’”

Consulting reliable resources, as well as objectively assessing one’s own mental wellness, also help an individual figure out when it’s time for some professional intervention. Because, no matter how dark today might feel, there is always help available to realize a better, brighter tomorrow.

“Look at your level of functioning: How am I doing with my family and relationships, how am I doing in my job, what am I doing with my leisure time, am I taking care of myself, am I disinterested in or afraid of the things I used to love, am I engaged with life?” Marcone notes. “I have a lot of clients that have ailments that aren’t life-threatening but that impede their quality of life quite a bit, and it creates a lot of distortion in their thoughts and hopelessness and mindsets that are self-defeating rather than seeing the beauty around us. There’s suffering all over, but we have to look for that beauty.”


Counseling Resource Services
(407) 654-4433 |

K2 Medical Research
(407) 500-5252 |

Orlando Health

Seasons Counseling Orlando
(407) 960-3938 |