If your business is stress management, then 2020 is your year.
The coronavirus, historic job loss, racial injustice and a fiercely-contested election have left many Americans on edge for months. Businesses that specialize in mental health and wellness are in greater demand, but the pandemic has created obstacles to providing that help.
Carmen Champion owns Main Street Yoga in downtown Bloomington. Her clients come for yoga and meditation. But really, she said, they come to de-stress.
“Stress is the number one reason people come to classes,” Champion said.
And, a major source of stress is the pandemic.
It also has made it harder to hold classes. Champion moved all of her classes online. Even through demand may be greater, participation is down 60%. Champion said it's harder in a Zoom class to see whether your clients are using proper form. Plus, people are juggling schedules to manage child care and make work adjustments and no longer have the time.
She added some people just don't want to spend any more time in front of a screen these days.
“Zoom exhaustion has been a big deal. It’s something me and other studio owners have talked about,” she said. “People have been (in front of) a screen all day. By the time night rolls around, the last thing they want to do it is turn the computer back on again.”
There are other places you can turn to for self-care, and you are not alone.
Leslie Rusch-Bayer is a registered dietician at the Couri Center in Peoria. It includes lifestyle and diet analysis in its health programs for women.
“Very few people wake up every day saying, ‘I feel good,’” said Rusch-Bayer.
She said more women have been calling looking for paths to better health during the pandemic and more men are seeking them out, too.
“We have had an increase in men, typically husbands of wives who go to our office and are now saying, ‘It’s my turn,’” Rusch-Bayer said.
Rusch-Bayer said many people have plenty of questions about how to be in better health--whether it's to protect themselves against the coronavirus, or to reduce their risks if they get infected.
She said many start off on a false assumption that they are healthier than they truly are.
“There are people that look (healthy)--and we assume are healthy--they are getting the virus and are having a hard time with the virus,” Rusch-Bayer said. “I think we need to spend more of our resources on really getting a better picture of what we are considering good health.”
She recommends a comprehensive health screening that may reveal underlying conditions that could leave you at greater risk, noting it's better to know than not to know. Not knowing, she said, creates anxiety and that creates its own set of health problems.
“That stress that builds up over time and tends to be the tipping point that causes things to go bad,” she said. "The difference between having high blood pressure and having a stroke typically is stress.”
When that anxiety gets to be too much, it may be time to seek counseling.
Jenn Bovee owns the Mental Wellness Center in Bloomington. The clinic moved to all telehealth at the start of the pandemic and counseling visits dropped. Bovee said the clinic had to move back to in-person therapy by the summer.
“In July, we had a massive increase in our need for services and we felt like if we didn’t come back into the office, we were going to lose some business because people were needing us to come back right away,” said Bovee, adding a majority of customers felt therapy via video wasn't working for them.
She said in times like this, control what you can, and accept that fear is real. The problem, she said, is fear often leads to greater isolation.
“It should be able to bond us all together. Unfortunately, what I see a lot is there’s this whole fear factor and if you have COVID and I haven’t gotten it yet, I am going to be afraid of you. So I am going to judge you vey harshly because you have it and I haven’t gotten it yet.”
Bovee said some clients also struggle with post-COVID syndrome. That can include neurological issues, hair loss and other random health problems they didn't anticipate.
But there are silver linings in the dark clouds the coronavirus has cast.
Champion said many customers have adjusted to taking classes at home.
“There are students who have really struggled to practice or to explore yoga in their house and now they are having a new appreciation in their home about how they can practice and explore, and be present and peaceful in their own home," she said. "I think that’s been a really cool thing.”
Champion said taking a meditation class at home helps some incorporate it into daily lives, rather than leaving it at the studio. Despite the drop in customers, she's doing fine, adding she's also adapted to current events. She added a class for Yoga Nidra, or a yoga nap, the day after the election.
“In the 2016 election, the Wednesday after the election, we had the final results a lot faster. I had people walking into the studio, crying all day,” Champion recalled.
Champion said the yoga nap went over well this time, too, but they also wanted it the next week since election results were delayed. She obliged.
Bovee also adapted and she said her clients have, too. She said the return to in-person counseling has given them a vital sense of normalcy.
“I think just the familiarity of, ‘OK, you are back in the office, that gives me some sense of safety and some stability because at least I know life is getting back to normal,'” she said.
Bovee said she hopes the pandemic teaches us something about those struggling with mental health issues, saying what they need most is empathy.
A study done this summer showed 90% of adults in the United States reported emotional distress due to the pandemic.
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