Almost two years after the pandemic began, new COVID cases and hospitalizations are once again spiking in New Jersey.

Rachel Strohl, a senior psychologist at Stress and Anxiety Services of New Jersey, said while everyone is tired of the disruptions, an increasing number of Garden State residents are also struggling with anxiety, anger and depression.

“It’s really important that we validate and normalize those feelings right now. People are feeling alone and it’s important that we tell them that they’re not alone," she said.

She noted as we continually face different kinds of pandemic challenges, it’s important to make plans for self-care and coping while accepting the uncertainty of the situation.

“If we can exist in that uncertainty it really does free us more, and that way we stop trying to eliminate it. Anxiety is an over-estimation of risk, and truly an under-estimation of our ability to cope,” she said.

Self-care is key

Strohl said self-care can look very different for many people.

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“For some people, it’s basic stress management, it’s relaxation, it’s doing exercise, meditation, moderation of their sleeping, their eating,” she said.

For others, “it might be relying on their religion or spirituality, it might be connecting with friends in a safe way."

She said this can also be a time to “get back to those things that we really did like: sitting in our pajamas a little more, not going out as much, spending more time with our family doing board games, cooking meals.”

What if that’s not enough?

Strohl said for some, self-care is enough to relieve anxiety and stress, but if it’s not, there's professional help.

“Are we doing any kind of unhealthy behaviors, like using any kind of alcohol, substance abuse, drugs? That’s not going to be helpful for us, that’s going to be a short-term escape.”

Winterize your mental health

Strohl said this is a good time for everyone to “winterize” their mental health.

“And what that means is get creative with outdoor activities, maybe getting together with friends or family around a fire pit, get those heat lamps back out. You could go ice skating or snow tubing,” she said.

She said one productive approach to dealing with a variety of issues is cognitive therapy.

“We know our thoughts lead to our feelings and behaviors and we want to make sure most importantly those thoughts are realistic and accurate,” said Strohl.

She explained this is not trying to encourage someone to be thinking positively but rather more realistically.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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NJ teachers and educators caught in sex crime busts

Over the past few years, state lawmakers have taken on the challenge of dealing with accused child predators among the ranks of teachers and educators.

In 2018, the so-called “pass the trash” law went into effect, requiring stricter New Jersey school background checks related to child abuse and sexual misconduct.

The follow individuals were arrested over the past several years. Some have been convicted and sentenced to prison, while others have accepted plea deals for probation.

Others cases are still pending, including some court delays amid the COVID-19 pandemic.