Expert urges you to find balance during the COVID-19 pandemic

There is stress and then there is COVID-19 stress. You have likely experienced it since that pandemic started -- and nothing could have prepared us for it. Just ask Adrienne Koclanis.

After years of setbacks, Koclanis was finally finding some balance. Working as the director of events at a fancy hotel in Milwaukee, Koclanis never thought her job would be affected by the coronavirus.

"It’s never going to come here," Koclanis half-heartedly told one co-worker. 

Adrienne Koclanis

Adrienne Koclanis

Koclanis even received a promotion during that time. Just four weeks later, she was furloughed. She didn’t think it would last.

"And truthfully, I thought I’d be back in like June," Koclanis said.

But she wasn’t.

"I knew I was in trouble," Koclanis said.

Koclanis applied for job after job but always met a dead end.

"All I would get was no responses or I would get rejection letters," Koclanis said. "No one wanted me."

As if the stress of that were not enough, Koclanis found little solace in what was becoming her new full-time job -- homeschooling.

"I felt like I had to be a drill sergeant," Koclanis said.

Koclanis' two sons -- one in 7th grade, the other a freshman in high school -- learned at a different pace. Trying to find the right rhythm between teaching them, looking for a job, and paying bills was demanding and difficult.

"It was very depressing. I didn’t know what I was going to do," Koclanis said.

Licensed psychologist Rae Ann Ho Fung said she has seen a lot of people struggling like Koclanis during the pandemic. It’s been especially tough on women.

"We have seen women trying to balance careers homeschooling their children and taking care of everyone else's needs," Ho Fung said. 

Rae Ann Ho Fung

Rae Ann Ho Fung

For Koclanis, things were about to get worse. She hurt her foot and needed surgery. Her car died. Still, no job. It would have been easy to give up as – in her words, "the hits just kept on coming."

"I’d cry privately in my room or I’d call my mom and I’d be crying," Koclanis said.

Dr. Ho Fung put it all in perspective.

"We live in America or the world of multitasking in the world. We're in a country where perfection is the standard -- and we need to do all things that we need to do them all perfectly," Ho Fung said. "Women are supposed to be the caretakers. They're supposed to overextend themselves for their family and loved ones."

Koclanis knows that all too well. She has traveled down dark roads before. 

"February of 2014, I got an OWI. That did not stop me from drinking. I wanted to (stop), it wasn’t a matter of willpower, I physically could not feel better unless I drank at 6:00 in the morning. I was really good at hiding it and lying," Koclanis said. "I was to the point where I just figured that everyone else would be better off without me."

The suicide attempt was a turning point for Koclanis. She decided then to start a new chapter -- and she did it with the help of Rogers Behavioral Health in Milwaukee. In fact, reflecting on those dark days helped her get through the pandemic’s darkest day.

Dr. Ho Fung said it is important to know – if you’re struggling, you are not alone. 

One medical journal found mental health symptoms increased substantially during the pandemic -- with people reporting anxiety or depression symptoms related to the trauma and stress of COVID-19.

"There are, you know, very short, mindful meditations to very long, mindful meditation or sleep stories. But so getting yourself into a space where you can just shut the door and shut it out," said Dr. Ho Fung. "We need to give ourselves permission and have that self-compassion to know that we are not superheroes -- we are human."

Many people have been relying on alcohol as a way to self-medicate during the pandemic. Nearly one in four adults, or 23%, reported drinking more alcohol to cope with their stress during the pandemic, according to the American Psychological Association’s latest "Stress in America" survey.

Dr. Ho Fung said there are creative ways to do virtual or socially distant get-togethers without alcohol.

"A fun glass of sparkling water in, you know, beautiful crystal stemware with a different dinner every night. So there are fun ways. There are also quick fixes you can do on your own," Ho Fung said. "Those quick, little one to five-minute self-care tips do actually work. There's a lot of scientific research that shows even one minute of mindfulness per day can significantly impact mood."

The doctor said you do not have to look any further than your smartphone.

"Mindful apps. There's all different types of things that you can find online. I personally use the calm app," Ho Fung said.

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Koclanis swears by yoga. She does it nearly every day to keep her on the right track, she said. When Koclanis is not perfecting her "downward dog," she is walking her real-life dog, Rowan, and looking toward the future with a renewed sense of optimism these days. How could she not? She just celebrated seven years of sobriety!

Plus, Koclanis just landed a job as a counselor for those struggling with addiction.

"It’s just a joy, an absolute joy," Koclanis said. "Because I can relate to the people."

Koclanis feels her best days are yet to come.

"I’m just so grateful. So, so grateful," Koclanis said.

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