As the world continues to delve, and grapple, into the anxieties of the current COVID-19 epidemic, there are a number of uncertainties looming in our midst. The nation-state of Egypt is no different. As Egyptians, and Expats, are continuing to move through this uncertain timing, there is one thing that is obvious. Mental health and wellness should be a top priority for this current period. In fact, it is more of a top concern, as it requires people to deal with issues of mental health. Running to work and hiding mental and emotional health issues by “staying busy” is no longer a comfortable option. Being secluded from the public eye is forcing families, and individuals, to make personal and emotional goals for the future. What is most valuable, and treasured, is how society is going to have to grapple with these current times.
One of the interesting arenas pertaining to the timing of the corona period is how people are becoming re-centered. Life is more about work and money. There are other layers to be explored. In this period of stillness, people are more open to the possibility of seeing time in a different way. If time is going by too fast, it means there is something wrong in how humanity is perceiving it. Egypt is one of those magical places in Earth’s planes, where humanity is able to explore the phenomenon of time. Breaking old barriers, and outdated perceptions of what time has been constructed to be. This is especially true for Expats, coming from highly industrialized areas, where money is taught to be the ruler of time. That’s only if they are willing to open their minds, and throw away dysfunctional, mental barriers, in what is meant to be a holistic experience. In Egypt, constrictions of time are dismantled. What is going to be very interesting within these coming months is how individuals may become awakened to the removal of such boundaries, due to the COVID-19 epidemic. Stillness will mandate it, as so.
Furthermore, in the world of psychology, mental health practitioners are faced with the challenge of providing sufficient care, while sustaining wellness, for their own mental psyche. COVID-19 presents a new opportunity in the world of mental health awareness. How people will continue in their development of new, and intrinsic, ways in coping with the current pandemic will determine present and future wellness initiatives to take place. One such Egypt-based, American woman expat, who will have to navigate through this wave is none other than the Director and Senior Clinical Psychologist at Maadi Psychology Center, from Rochester, New York.
Dr. Anne Justus
Lauren K. Clark: During this current period of the corona epidemic, how would you describe the current energies in Cairo, Egypt?
Dr. Anne Justus: Tension and anxiety is high in Cairo, but actually seems to be waning despite the rapidly increasing number of confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses, and the upcoming peak within the next two weeks.
Lauren K. Clark: From your perspective as a psychologist, have you seen an increase in mental health cases, such as depression, in Cairo, during this time?
Dr. Anne Justus: I feel there is more general, or free floating anxiety, now than previously. Social isolation and quarantine takes a significant toll on many of us. Humans were not designed to be isolated. We are social creatures. When this is not possible many of us are left with feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
Lauren K. Clark: How have you and other mental wellness practitioners been working to provide mental care and health to your clients?
Dr. Anne Justus: We are continuing to meet with clients online, via telephone, and in-person with strict WHO health and safety protocols. We are validating the unusual feelings that people may be having during this time for the first time. It’s a difficult time. Many of the things I would generally advise people to do to lift their spirits are not possible now; we must improvise. I can’t advise people to go to the gym or take yoga classes because they are closed. Instead, I encourage people to do online exercise classes, take socially-distanced walks/runs outside, go for a bike ride, swim, etc. Pre-COVID-19 I would advise people to spend time with their friends and family. Now, I advise people to spend time with friends and family on video chatting platforms, or socially distancing outside. Some things you just can’t replicate online. What do you tell a client who really wants and needs a hug from a friend during this time? It’s complicated.
Lauren K. Clark: In examining the level of uneasiness, during this time period, what are some of the challenges you are facing in maintaining personal and emotional wellness?
Dr. Anne Justus: I’m living through this like everyone else. I have close friends and family that have tested positive, and thankfully, survived COVID-19. It’s scary. No one is immune; there is nowhere to go that is “safe,” there’s nowhere to hide. The social, emotional, relational, educational, economic, and technological effects of this pandemic are truly epic. I’m trying to keep my head above water, just like every other human. I’m spending as much time outdoors as possible with my daughter and husband. I limit my social media exposure. I limit my media and news exposure to under 20 minutes a day. Instead of binging on shows (which I also love to do) I’m trying to connect with friends in different ways. I’m re-learning the old fashioned art of “visiting” with people. I’m reading that stack of lighthearted books I’ve been meaning to get to all year. I’m laughing at myself – a lot – and trying to find the humor in banal routines. I’d like to say that I’m crafting, doing 3000 piece puzzles (I bought one but no one will do it with me), learning another language, cooking show-stopping gourmet meals, writing a book, and planning to hike Kilimanjaro when all of this is over, but I’m not. I’m literally taking it day by day.
Lauren K. Clark: How do you feel these current times will change the strategies and methodologies in the psychology field? Do you envision new instruments being designed? Please share more about this.
Dr. Anne Justus: I’m not sure. I’m assuming and hoping there will be more emphasis put on the importance of human connection and relationships. I don’t want the ramifications of this pandemic to be that we are scared to be physically close to other people. That would be tragic.
There probably are instruments being designed now, as I type, that will specifically measure depression and anxiety in pandemics. They will likely try to tease apart the specific impact of a pandemic and resulting changes from standard depression and anxiety.
Lauren K. Clark: Do you foresee mental health and wellness becoming a key priority for the nation, and how the corona epidemic has played a role in this?
Dr. Anne Justus: I would hope so. It seems to be the trend that people are putting more emphasis on mental health. I hope it continues. COVID-19 would play a role in this in that it impacts everyone.
Lauren K. Clark: If you could paint the current times in Cairo, Egypt with 3 colors, what would they be? What is your rationale for choosing these colors?
Dr. Anne Justus: Brown (sand/dust), Red (the Flame trees are in bloom), and Blue (disposable face masks).
Lauren K. Clark: In providing mental health wellness and care, what demographic of people (i.e. mothers, business personnel, and others) have been reaching out for mental care the most? How does this contrast to the range of clientele prior to the corona epidemic?
Dr. Anne Justus: Clientele is about the same. More moms are reaching out (extra stress because they generally are the ones who are doing online schooling with their children), but don’t have time to come to therapy.
Lauren K. Clark: As an American woman psychologist, have you found any differences or new strategies that your fellow, Egyptian colleagues have developed or started using, during this time?
Dr. Anne Justus: Not that I’m aware of.
Lauren K. Clark: What are your concerns, as a psychologist regarding this current, corona period? Do you feel that a certain unease is going to increase?
Dr. Anne Justus: I think anxiety and unease will be higher than usual for the next couple of years. My concern is that people will let the fear get in the way of socialization which is very important for developing children, and can be done with precautions.
Lauren K. Clark: Name some creative strategies that families, individuals, and others can utilize as coping measures. How often can they be done? What are some of the benefits of using them in overcoming depression, during this time?
Dr. Anne Justus; Exercise is key. I encourage family walks and walking with friends outside. Read the sections above for other coping mechanisms/strategies.
Lauren K. Clark: As a mother in the psychology field, how have you been preparing and protecting your daughter from any stress and unease of the corona period?
Dr. Anne Justus: My daughter is almost 5 years old now. I talk to her about COVID very factually. I do not dumb it down for her, nor do I engage in fear mongering. She knows what it is, how it’s transmitted, etc. She’s mostly angry that she can’t see her friends at school or go to our local pool – which is completely understandable. Regarding stress management, we spend a lot of time playing, outside, at home.
Lauren K. Clark: Has your schedule changed in how you prepare for your day?
Dr. Anne Justus: It hasn’t changed much. I save some additional time because I’m not commuting much, but otherwise it’s pretty much the same.
Lauren K. Clark: Each day, you wake up, prepare breakfast, turn on your laptop, and you begin your work. Take us on a journey of what happens when you finish your day, during this time?
Dr. Anne Justus: I return last minute emails, messages, and tend to schedule changes. Afterwards, I’ve been going for walks, catching up with friends, and spending time with my family. I’m really trying to engage the outdoors and get in touch with nature. I’m spending some time at the beach, and I love looking for shells with my daughter!
It seems to be that simple. Honesty, moving through, and simply rolling with time, within these, current times. Dr. Anne Justus has clearly navigated Egyptian lands so well, that movement is natural. And, I’m not referring to being out within the public sector. On the contrary, it is about mental movement. It relates to the honest concerning these unique circumstances. As a mother, she has clearly connected that to her daughter. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that the world has ended. If anything, that unique bond, and relationship, has been strengthened, further. Perhaps that is one of the positive, upscale secrets of this corona period. Humanity is forced to be closer to each other. Its is a level of intimacy, which is part of that mental journey.
As of right now, creativity is, key. It is a level of directing our frustrations, anguish, worries, and fears into a greater level of understanding, in order to be productive. That’s the very wellness of it. This period is designed to make us stronger, mentally. Constructed to give us power in preparing for a future time span, when we will be tested, on a greater scale. Until then, let’s continue to pull tighter. Massaging our mental psyche into the direction, that time warrants it to be. In doing so, we are mastering the spiritual process of preparation. Being prepared is what gives us quiet and calm. It heals our essential core. And what is more comforting than to experience the ecstasies in using creativity’s time? Let us thrive in these current times! Bringing that illuminating energy into our homes, as those familial bonds become tighter. Making us all that more prepared, and more loving, for the time when we will get to re-claim that normalcy of time, again!
For more information on the latest work by Dr. Anne Justus and the Maadi Psychology Center, you can go to the following: http://maadipsychologycenter.com/, https://www.therapyportal.com/p/annejustus/, Instagram: the.dr.anne