DUNWOODY, Ga. — The stress and anxiety of daily life has taken a toll during the pandemic. Between concerns of a softening economy, balancing work schedules and child care, metal health experts say there is no shortage of worry. 

To bring awareness to current challenges, Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch led a virtual conversation, “Strategies For Coping in 2020: Helping Ourselves and Our Children,” on Sept. 16. The prevalence of stress and how to manage the symptoms along with the social and emotional impact of COVID-19 were the focus of the discussion.

Two counseling professionals answered questions and shared their experiences with students. Face-to-face counseling at school has been replaced with virtual sessions using enhanced security to prevent cyber intrusion or “Zoom bombing.”

Creating a structured schedule, coupled with proper diet, exercise and hydration were mentioned as key elements in combating depression.

“For me, in my practice, the majority of kids that I see at both Peachtree Charter Middle School and Dunwoody High School, they’re coming to me for anxiety,” said Dr. Heather Page, a staff psychologist for Summit Counseling Center.

Effects can vary from social nervousness to constant worry. She said some level of anxiety is helpful to prepare for a presentation or a test.

“Where the problem comes in at is when your anxiety is so debilitating it keeps you from living a life worth living,” she said.

When encountering a friend in difficulty, she said, it would be worthwhile to validate the person’s anxiety, but to remind them of success with prior challenges.

“I think in the moment, when you are in the darkness, you cannot see the light,” she said.

Strategies to mitigate anxiety include deep breathing for 8 to 10 minutes and guided imagery meditation. The panel suggested that multiple strategies can be considered, such as art or music.

Should anxiety overwhelm day-to-day life, that may signal a need to consult a medical professional.

Dunwoody High School Head Counselor Alethia Love said children are facing a different environment than they’re used to.

“It is very weird to not know when we are going to go back [to school], and I thought we would have some of these answers as we are having board meetings,” she said.

Love emphasized the importance of communication with family in normal and high stress situations. By focusing on your household and keeping open dialogue, difficult conversations held later may be easier, she said.

“If you are concerned, do not sit on it, if you are wondering, talk to a professional,” Love said. She recommended calling your pediatrician or in extreme situations dialing 911.

Deutsch mentioned using the phrase “space and grace” to describe the approach to navigating this challenging time.

“I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, and I think everyone is trying to do the right thing and is doing the best they can,” the mayor said.

Dunwoody Communications Director Jennifer Boettcher said the online conversation did not result from any specific event.

“We have seen this being discussed in other cities and figured we had some really good experts here,” she said.

The session was modeled after a recent conversation held by the Fulton County Mental Health Cooperative. The city of Milton held a similar discussion.

Last year, the Dunwoody Police Department completed specialized training as part of the One Mind Campaign to respond to calls for mental health or intellectual disability assistance.

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