By: Julie Eller, Live Yes! With Arthritis Podcast Co-Host
If you are anything like me, these past few months have put you into a prolonged state of “fight or flight” — where your body and your mind are responding to the world and trying to determine if it is best to stay put and fend off the evils of the moment or flee to safety.
When I was a biology student, I was fascinated by the concept of a negative feedback loop — the biological mechanism that makes things like the fight or flight response happen. Essentially, your body perceives a stressor that causes distress, and your brain responds by triggering a hormonal reaction that prepares you to either fight against the stressor or flee from it. What many call a survival instinct is really just a feedback loop that allows your body to respond to acute stressors and then return to homeostasis, or normal. And for much of this year, we have been in fight or flight — responding to stressor after stressor, and desperately hoping that the latest would be the last before a return to normal. With the fight or flight response, we know that chronic stressors can desensitize your ability to perceive and respond to stress. And right now I, for one, am struggling with how to achieve some kind of calm with all the uncertainty we face.
First, it was navigating the pandemic with an autoimmune condition, which caused my boyfriend and me to leave our apartment in our home city of Washington, DC, in favor of hunkering down with family in Tennessee. Then came the economic uncertainty that has led to struggling businesses and record levels of unemployment, which encouraged me to reconsider my monthly budget and make relief donations whenever possible. And now we’re experiencing a renewed urgency in the fight for racial justice, which has inspired me to be an ally, committed to learning from and standing with communities of color. 2020 has been a hard year, full of moments that trigger fight or flight responses among many people across our nation and our world.
That is why it is so important to have tools in your toolkit to help you mitigate your stress and identify the elements of normal in a decidedly abnormal chapter of our history. I have been feeling for quite a few weeks now that the amount of stress I’m experiencing is too much to keep bottled up in one person, one heart, one mind. But I didn’t realize that I could get the help I need to sort out those feelings from the comfort of my own home… until I got to meet Jessica Auslander.
Jessica is a champion in the arthritis community and a special kind of mental health care provider: a telemental health provider. That means she connects with her clients by video chats and phone calls to deliver the care, support and resources they need. She knows firsthand what it feels like to live with arthritis and is also the parent of a child who lives with juvenile arthritis. She dedicates her time to volunteering for the Arthritis Foundation and making sure our communities get and stay connected with people who understand what they’re going through. But beyond all that, what makes Jessica a leader in the arthritis community is that she is also a beacon of hope for people pursing mental health care.
I learned so much about the promise of telemental health care from Jessica. She taught me that, with all the stressors we face, many people are pursuing mental health care virtually to help them sort out the complicated stresses they are feeling today. But she didn’t stop there: She made sure I understood that these services aren’t a response to the pandemic; she has been practicing telemental health for more than a decade, connecting people with needed resources in the comfort of their own home. I couldn’t help but think about how incredibly useful this kind of access will be for people who are feeling the emotional weight of another arthritis flare. Both Rebecca and I felt lighter after chatting with Jessica, and I think you will, too. Listen to the latest episode of the Live Yes! With Arthritis podcast about the benefits and how to access TeleMental Health, today!