Health

A Therapist on How to Manage All Your Pandemic Feelings

| 05/08/2020

pandemic emotions Illustration by Sophi Gullbrants

Right now so many of us are trying to find our footing in this temporary normal. You’re likely experiencing a lot of feelings, and that’s to be expected. Our lives have been disrupted, and we’ve had to cope with increased stress, fear, anxiety, grief, depression, lust, or any combination of those. The key is finding the best ways to manage them all.

As a therapist, I’ve talked with many clients about how they’re coping with the current times, and exploring ways to maintain and take care of myself as well. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Harness the Power of Acceptance, Then Problem-Solve Where You Can

It’s hard to manage difficult feelings when you refuse to accept them. And that’s common—no one wants to accept a terrible situation. We naturally want to avoid things, people, and circumstances that make us feel bad. This can be helpful to get out of, say, a toxic relationship, but if we take denial too far, we can create new problems for ourselves. Sometimes we have to lean into discomfort, as it can teach us something very important.

Try to think of acceptance like problem-solving. You can’t solve a problem when you aren’t able to identify what the actual problem is, right? While most of us don’t have the skills or experience to cure COVID-19, we do have the skills to make our daily lives better and cope more effectively. This starts with identifying our feelings and accepting them as valid, just as they are.

There is no right way to process this era. Some people are relatively unfazed and have made only slight adjustments to their daily lives, while many others may be dealing with loss of income, coping with illness themselves, dealing with the death of loved ones, or experiencing suffering up-close while working in hospitals or in other essential jobs. There can be a lot of pressure to remain positive in challenging times, but please don’t feel pressured to minimize your own feelings just because someone else may have it worse. You’re still entitled to feel upset about all of the things that have changed for you. Alternatively, it’s OK if you feel happy right now because of the benefits you’re gaining (for example, spending more time at home). Accepting the validity of your emotions is one fundamental way to cope with your pandemic feelings.

Managing Social Connections and Relationships

Most of us are experiencing some changes in our relationships right now. For many, contact with our non-quarantine world is mostly digital and while it’s a helpful alternative, it’s not the same as holding hands or getting a hug from someone you love.  

Try your best to monitor your own feelings and take time-outs to self-soothe when you’re feeling worked up.

If you’re fortunate enough to be self-quarantined with others, you have probably realized that it’s a complicated experience with a lot of messy feelings. You might feel multiple, conflicting feelings at once! You may be grateful that you’re not alone, but you also may be annoyed by some pressure to be more present with your partner or roommates or loved ones. You may enjoy being home with your children but feel overwhelmed by the increased responsibilities of working from home and providing child care or schooling and daily activities. You also probably don’t take kindly to the idea of being forced to stay home, even if it’s for the greater good. Being forced to do anything doesn’t feel great, regardless of the moral benefits.

Being stuck indoors with others during the pandemic leaves more time for reconnecting, but also more time to be annoyed or irritated by those you’re with. As we’re under high stress, it’s also likely that small tiffs turn into much bigger sources of conflict. Try your best to monitor your own feelings and take time-outs to self-soothe when you’re feeling worked up. This is also a great time to be intentional about handling conflict productively.

What about connections outside your quarantine pod? Many of us are glued to our computers and devices for work, and that likely means feeling some video fatigue when it’s time to catch up with loved ones. It’s OK to switch things up and opt for a phone call or catching up via text if that feels better. There is pressure to be more visually present these days, but it’s also valid to take a time-out from sitting in front of your computer, even if you naturally prefer seeing someone’s face. Offer yourself the same compassion and grace that you extend to others.

Your shifting emotions are also likely to affect your relationships. You’re likely to be irritable, fussy, or not excited about life right now. This requires us to manage our own emotions and mental health. When was the last time you made time for something that brought you joy? Is there a helpful distraction you can lean into and forgo productivity for some time? These mental breaks can help you cope with the circumstances and make it less likely that you’re going to irrationally lash out at those closest to you.

So much of life through this pandemic is about management, not resolution.

Not adding unnecessary relationship stress is probably a good idea right now. If we aren’t mindful when we handle our relationship conflicts (by lashing out, name calling, or otherwise not fighting fair), we may end up causing other problems later, like unintentional hurt and growing resentment. Just remember that everyone is under increased stress and try to give others, and yourself, the benefit of the doubt. 

Coping with the Need for Escape

When times are terrible, escape and avoidance are very alluring strategies. Unfortunately, being out in the world is less safe for us than it was a few months ago. But there may be other ways to honor that feeling.

Try to safely switch up the physical spaces you occupy as much as possible. If you can get outside, please do so while protecting yourself and others. If you want to “escape” while still being indoors, consider what stokes expansiveness. Could watching a documentary about remote areas of the world help you escape? What about soundscapes of beaches and faraway places? Could it help to read a book that delves into a whole fantastical world you’ve never heard of?

These strategies aren’t cure-alls, but they might offer enough to help you better manage your impulses to be out before you take unnecessary risks to yourself and others. So much of life through this pandemic is about management, not resolution.

Above all, keep in mind that you’re living through unprecedented times. You are likely to stumble, cope in some undesirable ways, and even pick a fight with your partner. Do what you can to monitor yourself without judgment and make adjustments that you need.

Dame is now offering workshops! Learn more here, and sign up for Jor-El’s course on couples’ communication here.

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