A screen shot from A Gathering Space Zoom session shows Tawnya Blalock and Megan Colvin, top, and Anna Pantano, below, talking about how our brains integrate our experiences during difficult times. Four area women, all licensed counselors or life coaches, are joining forces to share strategies online for coping with pandemic stress, at no cost. The four, in headshots, are Pantano of Columbus, top left; Blalock of Starkville, top right; Karla Morgan of Starkville, lower left; and Colvin of Starkville, lower right. Their next Zoom session will be available at 3:30 p.m. July 23. Register through the group's Facebook page. Photo by: Courtesy photos
July 11, 2020 7:55:18 PM
What would returning to school even be like? Will I ever get back to 40 hours? It's months since I've been able to hug Mom. Should I worry about my 401K? Do we postpone the wedding until it's safer to bring everyone together? Can I keep my business afloat? I'm so lonely. Will this ever end?
Stressors spawned by the coronavirus pandemic cover the spectrum. For many people, concerns unimagined six months ago have emerged. That's why four Golden Triangle women created A Gathering Space -- "tips, tools and a break from the chaos."
Not long after COVID-19 entered everyday vocabulary, Megan Colvin, Karla Morgan, Tawnya Blalock and Anna Pantano -- two licensed counselors and two life coaches -- saw anxiety levels on the rise in their own clients and in their communities. They banded together to try to help. Through Facebook and Zoom, they developed a public platform that provides coping strategies, encouragement and resources, at no charge, during this unsettling time.
"We wondered what would it look like if we offered ourselves to the community," said Blalock of Starkville, a certified life coach. "We recognized within our own personal clientele, and within ourselves, that this is the first time we're all going through this, and what does that look like?"
Colvin, a licensed professional counselor in Starkville, noted the pandemic is, in essence, a shared ordeal, even if its stresses manifest in different ways for different people.
"We're going through a kind of a collective trauma," she said. "We have lost people to this, or know people who have lost people, or our schedules have been disrupted, but somehow we've all been impacted on some level."
"We have definitely seen an increase in what would be perceived as negative coping strategies as the uncertainty goes on," Blalock observed.
"There are people struggling with depression, people who are recognizing that maybe they're eating more, or drinking more, maybe they're situationally depressed, maybe they're quick in mood swings with their family. What we're also seeing is a lot of concern about what the upcoming school year looks like."
Some who were managing well in the first months of the pandemic are starting to fray as it goes on.
Colvin remarked, "And I am noting some people are doing OK, which is great and fine, but they feel kinda guilty for that."
Morgan, a licensed professional counselor in Starkville, said, "With everything everyone is experiencing, for us it's really been about trying to get free resources out to individuals, to support each other and to get support out to people who may not feel comfortable, or may not have resources, to seek counseling or coaching (otherwise)."
Combined, the four women provide unique perspectives. They range in age from 30s to 50s. Some have small kids at home; others have grown children.
On Facebook, the group shares insight and advice for reducing anxieties. In Zoom, they provide a space for discussion on different topics. The next Zoom session is planned for July 23 at 3:30 p.m. A link to register will be posted on the Facebook page, facebook.com/groups/779058405954868/.
"We try to post what the topic will be and create some information around that topic, then open the floor up for conversation," Blalock explained. Participants can interact, or simply listen.
"We're a very open-minded, non-judgmental group," said Pantano, a mindfulness coach in Columbus. "We're just here for support. We're also going through this, just like they are."
From the early stages of the outbreak, through shelter-at-home, staged reopening and now the rise in cases and hospitalizations, concerns have fluctuated but share common ground.
Pantano said, "I think isolation is huge right now, and a lot of times when you feel like you're alone, that can be really scary, so 'attending' a talk can help with that."
Morgan remarked, "I feel like a big theme has been the overwhelming sense of uncertainty, because things have been changing and continue to change. People are having to adapt at a rate that is really almost too much to ask."
Change, even planned change, is hard, Morgan added. "And this is something no one planned for. No one has all the answers. It's a really unique type of situation, and a rapidly changing one."
Ultimately, the four women collaborating to provide A Gathering Space are in business, Blalock said, "but this was really born out of being a part of a community ... and recognizing that we have training and skill sets that hopefully could help people. It's OK to be struggling. We are all figuring this out together, and you do not have to do it alone."
Editor's note: Blalock owns Lifehouse Coaching in Starkville. Colvin is in private practice in Starkville. Morgan owns Seeds Counseling and Wellness in Starkville. Mindfulness coach Pantano practices in Columbus. Learn more about A Gathering Space at facebook.com/groups/779058405954868/.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
5. Photo: Rachel Ann Wakefield gallery exhibit ENTERTAINMENT