Experts share advice on maintaining mental health as we return to 'normal'

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KGO) -- After a year of COVID-isolation, many Americans can be forgiven if they're feeling a sense of emotional whiplash.

In a 2020 CDC Study, a third of U.S. adults reported some symptoms associated with anxiety or depression.

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Clinical Psychologist Jonathan Horowitz, PH.D., is the founder of the San Francisco Stress and Anxiety Center.

"So to be in this situation where people were required to step back from their social life and employment, things like that, people were really at risk for mental health illnesses," says Horowitz.

Families and children also felt the stress of distance learning and disrupted routines. Lynn Dolce, MFT, is the CEO of Edgewood Center for Children and Families in San Francisco, where referrals for residential treatment jumped significantly during the pandemic.

"Kids who were really suffering are kids who were extremely isolated, no sports, no activities, no peers," she explains.

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But now the emotional pendulum may be swinging once again as many face the prospect of heading back to work and school. They're now facing a new and different kind of anxiety.

"They've missed a year of social connection. So there's a lot of question where do I fit in, who's my peer group, how do I connect with these kids who I haven't seen in over a year?" says Dolce.

Horowitz believes adults returning to work may face similar uncertainty.

"We're trying to navigate back into the office and it's like where are we in regard to the rules?"

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They say therapists can help clients transition in a number of ways. First, It's important to re-establish a routine, whether it's school or work and getting used to the familiar rhythm. It may also help to limit personal expectations for how quickly things will seem normal again. Also to realize fellow students and co-workers are in the same boat.

"So I think just acknowledging it's OK to feel this way, you can feel a little unsettled," says Horowitz.

There are also an increasing variety of affordable therapy options. Like many practices, SF Stress offers different levels of online counseling as well as in-person visits. While a growing group of nonprofits has created flexible plans that can help lower-income patients navigate a difficult stretch.

"Young people are very spontaneous, and they want to come and go with therapy as they need it. And sometimes every few weeks is just enough for them. But again it's a touchstone, it's a place to go and say I don't know what to do, says Dolce.

And perhaps gain critical help, on the road back to post-COVID normal.

There are a number of organizations set up to direct patients to affordable mental health care.

Here are a few of the resources in the Bay Area:

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