Updated: May 12
With so much of the world in a constant state of unknown, and most of the world being confined to their houses for the last month, many are seeing their mental health affected. At times, people can get confused about why their mental health is affected. “I’m just stuck in my house, it’s not like anything is really happening to me.”
And yet, there are a lot of reports of a lack of motivation, concentration, and energy. Declarations of newfound productivity are played out on the couch in front of Netflix and a bag of Cheetos. Marriages have been feeling tense, and the joys of parenting are starting to look more like struggles. Fears about being infected with a new strain of a disease we don’t know much about are fighting for attention with insistence that it’s not as bad as everyone is making it out to be. Almost every day the projections of what is coming next are changing, as experts try to filter through the misinformation to try and accurately map a land as they discover it.
So what is happening?
This pandemic has caused us to lose our routines – the typical day-to-day process of getting up, getting dressed, hopping in your car and heading to work or school, having a schedule, and needing to be places and see certain people. Most of us now just shuffle out of bed and to a desk and pull out our laptops. Zoom is a commonplace word now, and memes about dressing for the camera abound. Add to that a shuffle to the kitchen for snacks, and a shuffle to the couch for some Netflix time, and you realize you’re only confined to the same thousand-ish square feet, day after day. There’s not a lot of routine in that, compared to “what was.”
We have also lost our social structure. We have literally been told not to hang out with people right now. For many of us, that’s not an easy adjustment, and we start feeling uneasy about being alone, or only allowed to see the same 2-4 people every day. Some of us live alone, and find ourselves very isolated, having counted on the routine of life to carry us to see people. Some of us aren’t even in a safe place, where we are quarantined. Of course there’s going to be anxiety, depression, frustration, and a host of other emotions we didn’t know we experienced because of all of this.
When you look at these things along with a seemingly random inability to sleep through the night, or difficulty falling asleep or waking up in the morning, losing your appetite or feeling like you can’t do anything but eat, finding the stain on the wall a lot more interesting than the “productive” day you told yourself you were going to have...
You might be feeling the symptoms of trauma.
Yes, the impact of a pandemic counts as trauma. When our lives are upended and everything familiar is replaced with revolving unfamiliarity, it can be traumatic.
What does this mean??
It means that your emotions are normal. It means that your inability to be productive, despite the ample opportunity to be so, is normal. It means that your frustration at your spouse, kids, parents, dog...are all normal.
It means you can breathe. You can take a step back and give yourself room to be mad. To hate that all of this is happening. Yes, it’s been a month, but no, that doesn’t mean you should be over it already. You “shouldn’t” be anything. You are where you are, and that’s okay.
So what can you do going forward?
I’ll be providing a lot of different resources and tips over the next few weeks to answer that very question. But for now, I leave you with a breathing exercise to help slow down your thoughts and fears, and your nervous system. Deep breathing has been shown to be effective for people in reducing symptoms of anxiety and stress (Hazlett-Stevens & Craske, 2008) and can be a useful exercise for you now.
If this isn’t your style, you can also try sitting comfortably in a chair, in a quiet room, and do the 4-3-8 technique. Breathe in for a count of 4, hold it for a count of 3, and the slowly breathe out for a count of 8. Focus on your breaths as they go in through your nose, and out through your mouth. When your mind starts wandering, notice it and move your focus back to your breathing, without judging yourself. Try doing that for 5 or 10 minutes.
Let me know how this goes for you! And if you want to access resources during this time, the Psychological Services Center has them for you! Many therapists are utilizing telehealth during this pandemic, and would love to help you with whatever you’re going through. We have a list of therapists in the area, and PsychologyToday.com is also a great resource for finding a therapist, if you are not reading this in the Virginia Beach area.
I hope you all are staying safe during these uncertain times, and I hope you are finding ways to stay optimistic and entertained. If you feel that you are struggling with any kind of emotional or behavioral health problems and are in need of therapy services please do not hesitate to contact the PSC and schedule an appointment. Stay tuned for a new post next week!