Has the COVID-19 pandemic left you feeling out of sorts in a way you can’t quite describe? You’re not alone. Beyond the physical toll it takes on those who experience symptoms, an emotional heaviness has seeped into most of us.
How is our emotional health being affected by the pandemic? Here are some questions you may have as you work to understand your feelings, along with strategies to lighten the emotional load.
What Are People Feeling Now?
It’s difficult to give it one name. Anxiety, definitely. Fear, dread and grief are mixed in too. We’re also experiencing ambiguous grief. It’s not a clear loss, like that experienced by people who have lost a loved one, but it’s the feeling we’ve lost so much in terms of normalcy and safety. Before the pandemic, people felt safe going about their daily business, doing things like going to the grocery store. That feeling of safety is gone.
This ambiguous grief has hit us all collectively. Adverse events usually don’t affect so many people at the same time. There is comfort in knowing we can all commiserate, but conversely, it means our normal sources of support may be struggling because they’re experiencing it too.
In the past, we have dealt with national tragedies, but those were often one-time events. It’s unique to be living through an extended crisis with an uncertain end date.
Are Different Types of Personalities Experiencing It Differently?
Some people feel energized by having a sense of mission, something they can contribute to. Others feel paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. And then there is everything in between.
At this point, we can’t say definitively that certain types of personalities respond in a specific way. It partially depends on your role in the family, your job, how you process information and where you’re getting information. Many factors influence a person’s emotional response.
Does COVID-19 Create a More Difficult Situation Because It Is an Invisible Threat?
An invisible virus spread by people who are and aren’t showing symptoms is likely to induce anxiety. Research has shown that things that are unknowable, uncertain and out of our control increase anxiety levels. Because the situation continues to unfold and we don’t have all the answers, it is a classic anxiety-producing situation.
What Can We Do To Feel Better? Is It Even Possible To Feel More in Control?
The answers to this may seem like they’re not enough. There is nothing that will take away the anxiety completely. We have to manage it. To do that, it’s important to differentiate between what we can and can’t control.
During the pandemic, as in much of life, some things are out of our control — like when toilet paper is back in stock and what our neighbors are doing. We need to remind ourselves that there are things we can control. We can wash our hands, plan how to get groceries safely, schedule a video chat with a friend, etc.
We can also remember to be grateful. Research shows that gratitude significantly impacts our mental health. Keeping a list of the things you’re grateful for will help you focus on the positive.
Even though this situation is unprecedented, we’ve all been through stressful times before and have developed ways of coping. Think of what strategies have been successful for you in the past. For example, start by keeping a routine. Don’t absorb too much information. Stay connected to your loved ones and attend to those relationships. Explore ways to stay calm like breathing, prayer, exercise, stretching and music.
Pay attention to how you’re talking to yourself. If you’re thinking that things will never be the same again, realize that even though things may change, you can adapt to the changing circumstances. Recognize that feeling bad doesn’t usually last forever. People are resilient.
How Might We Grow from This Experience?
Begin by giving yourself some grace. Don’t expect perfection and that you will handle every challenge in an ideal way. We’re not in an ideal world now, so try to adjust your standards.
Use this as a time to reconnect with things that are most important to you. Nurture relationships with family, and find learning opportunities.
While fear is a natural reaction, gently challenge yourself to move beyond it. Learn how to identify your emotions and let go of things outside your control. From there, you can grow by finding a purpose, helping others, being grateful and keeping yourself emotionally happy.
Ask yourself how you can contribute during this time. While you may not be on the front line treating patients in a hospital’s ICU, you can practice social distancing. That contributes. It’s helpful to shift from being fearful to doing what you can to improve the situation.
What Can We Expect Emotionally After the Pandemic Is Over?
This will vary based on each person’s situation. The emotional aftereffects could include gratitude and a new appreciation for things we took for granted and relief that normalcy has been restored. People may experience feelings of “moral injury” if they had to make difficult choices about how to help people, grief from losses and loss of innocence, and lingering fear that it could happen again. There could also be delayed emotional reactions for those who were too busy in the middle of the pandemic to acknowledge their emotions at the time.
As you move forward, it’s important to realize that after any kind of trauma, loss or stressful situation, the reality is that most people are resilient. The majority go back to being themselves and feeling like themselves.
Keep a long-term perspective, strive to be optimistic and trust that things will get better.