MADISON, Wis. — An entire year of anxiety, stress, and isolation can have a lasting impact on our mental health. 

“We’re facing a COVID pandemic, but really, it’s a mental health pandemic,” said therapist Joy Kiesch. She’s the clinical director and co-founder of Golden Vibes Counseling in Madison. 

“Sometimes people really struggle to get out of bed in the morning, they're struggling to just get through their day,” she said.

We’re been in heightened stress for twelve whole months. Our bodies and minds are created to deal with some of those intense situations, but they’re not made to endure it for an entire year. 

“High levels of stress and anxiety signals to the brain that we’re in this space of fight or flight,” Kiesch said. “It actually releases hormones in our body, like cortisol, that can wreak havoc on our bodies, can have long-term impacts on our bodies. It can cause depression, it can cause anxiety, it can cause PTSD in people.” 

When we hear the word grief, we usually associate it with the idea that someone died. But even for the people who didn’t lose a loved one to COVID-19, they lost lots of other things. 

“There was a lot of grief and loss that went along with 2020, that's never really been addressed,” she said. “People lost jobs, people lost family members. People were up against some pretty hard times, things that people have never experienced before.” 

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that in 2019, 11 percent of adults surveyed had some symptoms of anxiety or depression. In January of 2021, that number skyrocketed to more than 40 percent. Four out of every ten Americans are now dealing with some level of depression or anxiety. 

“Loss of community loss of a job, loss of the kind of their sense of self, everything that they knew was normal,” Kiesch said. 

There is a silver lining here though: people are asking for help, possibly more than ever before. 

“We are slammed,” she said. “We are busting at the seams.” 

Kiesch said it’s encouraging to see so many people feeling comfortable seeking support. 

“There are people that have never gotten mental health services in the past, that are now reaching out.” 

Kiesch said the bonus is that most people who reach out for help, don’t need it for long. Just a few sessions can be helpful enough that it’s easier to cope with everyday stressors, or get through a difficult time. 

She said if you’re trying to figure out whether you could use some professional help, a big marker is to think about whether daily life is manageable. If every day feels exceedingly difficult, that could be a sign it could be time to talk to someone. 

The basics can make a difference in how you feel: get enough sleep, exercise, and find moments for self-care. 

“Taking a break from media, getting out in nature, connecting with people that can really uplift you and that can support you,” she said. 

Kiesch cautions that even once the pandemic feels like it’s in the rearview mirror, some of that trauma could linger if left alone. “When you think about grief and loss, there is no timeline.”

Sometimes, all we have to do is ask for a little help, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. 

“We're so resilient, and we have so much strength,” she said. “I think sometimes we need to be reminded of it.”