Dear Dr. Yael,
I am writing to you about my mother, who is in general a nervous person. However, since Covid, I see a true decline in her. She was always nervous about being around people prior to Covid due to her social anxiety. Currently her situation has seriously declined. She has been vaccinated and got her booster. However, she isolates herself, missing every family simcha. My father comes alone and is a very relaxed, easy going person. My father is a very put together, financially successful professional. He feels my mother is using Covid to mask her social anxiety. Our family is Covid-conscious, so simchas are smaller and often outdoors in heated tents. Most everyone wears a mask. Everyone is vaccinated. I see my young mother deteriorating. I am married to an amazing husband who tries to engage my mother and welcomes her to our home. Currently she also refuses to come to our home and has only seen my children on FaceTime and Zoom. My mother does not work. Prior to Covid, she babysat regularly for my children whom she loves. My children miss my mother, and she misses them. I wonder if Covid will ever be over. I welcome any suggestions on how to deal with my mother whom I love dearly.
A distraught daughter
Dear Distraught Daughter,
Covid has been a huge challenge to the whole world. However, people who have general anxiety disorders are reacting more intensely to Covid, which is in fact a frightening disease. Initially Covid led to many deaths. Currently, the new strain of Covid is not as dangerous. People who were vaccinated and had boosters are still getting Covid, but the cases seem significantly milder, Baruch Hashem. People feel very weak and sick, but generally do not require hospitalization.
Your mother appears to struggle with general anxiety (based off the information you provided in your letter). Covid, which generally causes all of us anxiety, has definitely exacerbated it in individuals who suffer from anxiety disorders. You mentioned that your mother also seems to struggle with social anxiety. This can also make her situation more difficult. It is possible that your father is correct and that your mother is using Covid as a cover for her social anxiety. It is also possible that because she could not go out in the beginning of Covid, her social anxiety has gotten much worse. Generally, social anxiety only improves from putting yourself in social situations and tolerating the anxiety, so that your brain can see that the anxiety is tolerable and there is no reason to avoid going out. However, when a person with social anxiety avoids social situations, they are in essence teaching their brains that social situations are harmful and so their anxiety worsens. In your mother’s situation, Covid may have strengthened that “social situations are dangerous” mantra in her brain, which definitely would have exacerbated her social anxiety.
Unfortunately both your mother and your children are suffering from your mother’s anxiety. I am sure this makes your life more difficult as well. Additionally, your mother probably misses attending all these family simchas. It seems like it would be very beneficial for your mother to seek professional help to assist her in her social anxiety and in getting her life back. There are therapists who are doing Zoom now if she is more comfortable with that option. Please make sure the therapist she sees is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy, as this is the preferred treatment for generalized anxiety and social anxiety.
In the meantime, some techniques that may help your mother is to learn how to breathe deeply and be grounded and mindful in the present moment. Perhaps she can also get involved with chessed on Zoom or on the phone to help her feel more connected to people and help her feel better about herself.
Communicating with your children on Zoom and even playing a game with them on Zoom may help her feel more connected with your children as well. You can also try to connect with your mother on the phone and try to build her up by focusing on her positive points. Does your mother like to cook and bake? She can cook and bake for others as a way of giving and helping her feel more connected. Home cooking and baking have become more popular during Covid times. Please try to focus on your mother’s strengths and try to build her up. This will help her become a happier person. Hatzlocha in this challenging journey.