The sudden and drastic change in our everyday lives as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a surreal experience for many. Simultaneously, it has also been a uniting experience, as there is some solace in knowing that we are all experiencing this pandemic together, though each in our own way.
I thought it might be useful to discuss a few of the common issues that persons have shared with me during this time along with some suggestions that may help in making this period more manageable.
Issues that may be amplified by COVID-19
- Low tolerance for Uncertainty
Covid-19 represents uncertainty. We have no clear idea of when things will return to ‘normal’ because we don’t completely understand this virus that has brought us all to a screeching halt. Some of us usually function best when we have a clear plan or a ‘To-Do’ list of some sort, so it may feel chaotic and overwhelming now that Covid-19 has shaken up all well-laid plans. Those of us with a low tolerance for uncertainty or an aversion to unpredictability may be experiencing a tough time right now where very few things seem certain.
- Pre-existing Mental Struggles
Many of us may be already treating with mental struggles such as depression and anxiety in varying degrees. This can make this time even more stressful and difficult to cope with. For someone that considers his or her mind and thoughts to be hostile and unpleasant, the thought of isolation may be quite daunting and may become overwhelming.
- Inability to Practice Coping Mechanisms
We are all going through one of the most stressful times in our collective history and are unable to use our usual coping mechanisms to help get us through. Whether it was going for a run, going for a drink or going to catch a movie, the activities that served to help us cope with a stressful day/event/person are no longer viable options.
Fear is understandably the emotion that most persons describe as their dominant emotion during this pandemic. Most commonly, the fears articulated all surrounded catching this virus, losing loved ones to the virus, the state of the economy, job loss, and loss of housing. The one thing all of these fears have in common is that they are about the unknown. They are based on events that may or may not happen at some point in the future. Fear relies on the unknown to grow and Covid-19 represents uncertainty.
- Unique Challenges for Essential and Healthcare Workers
This pandemic presents some very unique and tough challenges for our essential and healthcare workers. Most would not have anticipated the extent to which they would have been putting their own lives and those of their loved ones at risk during the normal course of their job. Persons are advised to stay at home for their own safety but for every day that the pandemic continues, these workers leave their homes and risk coming face to face with this invisible enemy. The emotional toll that this may take on them and their families is not to be underestimated.
Some workers may also be facing feelings such as guilt, frustration and anger if they are unwilling to face their job with the glamourized bravado that society expects. These feelings may be driven by fear or other personal factors such as a greater sense of duty to their families. It is expected that not everyone would want the opportunity to play the hero role and this may stir-up some really complex and scary emotions.
Recommendations for Protecting your Mental Health
- Introspection or Reflection
One thing to keep in mind is that the way that we each experience the world and its events comes from within us. Essentially, the way that each of us experiences this pandemic is based on our individual value and belief systems. These systems drive our thoughts and feelings and we use it to define our worth, the worth of others, and they directly influence us (mostly subconsciously) at all given moments. This period of uncertainty is a good time to do a little reflection or introspection to get to know you. Peace can come when we remember that tough emotions are a result of the story (narrative) that we tell ourselves about events as they happen. We need only to be brave and to explore on a deeper level the reason that we choose the stories. Know that we most definitely can change these stories, which will effectively change the way that we experience things.
- New Coping Mechanisms
Now is the perfect time to explore new coping mechanisms to replace those that may be difficult to do during this pandemic. Activities such as deep breathing, adult colouring and reframing thoughts are great healthy coping mechanisms that can be very efficient at this time. You can also enjoy the process of finding new ways to make usual coping mechanisms doable under these new social distancing conditions. Basically, let flexibility be your friend.
- Establish New Routines
For some, the sudden break from their usual routines has been jolting since routines provide a sense of structure and safety for many. This is especially the case for children. Remember that we are not tied to our old routines and we are free to create new ones. The predictability of your newly implemented routines may be a reminder that a lot more is under your control and power than it may have felt like initially.
- Get Reliable Information
Panic usually occurs where there is a lack of information. I would recommend that if you feel panicked, try to take a little time to figure out what it is that you are afraid of then get more information about ‘it’. Please remember to obtain information from reliable sources only. Accurate information will help you to challenge and correct any panic-inducing misconceptions and may even help you to develop a plan of action, which may also provide comfort.
- Confront and Challenge Fears
Our fears are our worst-case scenarios and are usually based on things that we BELIEVE we cannot overcome. Fears are usually based on 2% reality and 98% ‘what if’. It is important to remember that everything that you previously thought would break you did not. Yes, it may have been painful and yes, it may have taken a long time to heal but YOU ARE STILL HERE and you have had happy moments since then. Also, a lot of times what we fear and spend time worrying about never even happens. So a lot of time and energy is spent spiraling into the deep dark world of negativity, stress and worry unnecessarily. It may be helpful to introspect; that is, explore your beliefs and values that make your fears real to you and challenge yourself to see things more objectively.
- Incorporate Mindfulness Practices
I know that mindfulness is a word that gets used a lot but I promise you that it is well deserving of this. In the simplest of terms, Mindfulness = Presence. So mindfulness asks that you allow yourself to be truly present in every moment. Regret, guilt, grievances, sadness, bitterness and non-forgiveness are signs that you are defining yourself by your past. Please remember you are not your mistakes and they definitely do not define you. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry and all forms of fear are signs that you are living too much in the future – and that you believe the worst is possible. Mindfulness helps you to live in the present. Some mindfulness exercises that we can all do are deep breathing, adult colouring and progressive muscle relaxation.
- Trust the process
There are some processes that we are able to trust quite easily. Trusting that your eyes will continue to move as you read this is a good example of this absent-minded kind of trust. It is only difficult to trust the process when we feel that we need to control events and we only feel this need to control events when we have forgotten that we control our experience of these events.
It can be a bit difficult to implement these strategies but this is where the therapeutic process can be quite helpful. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me for one on one work or to any other qualified professional with whom you are comfortable.
I can be contacted via telephone: 868-495-6285; email: firstname.lastname@example.org or social media on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @camillemquamina