It’s understandable if you’re feeling angry, scared, worried, or all of the above right now — because of COVID-19, you’re far from alone. Your emotions may be all over the place and changing moment-by-moment. Perhaps it’s been difficult to fully accept what’s happening in our world right now. Our communities are enduring something unprecedented. This is not normal and it’s not business as usual.
There also seems to be an added pressure of feeling as if we must carry on usual, as a sign of strength. The real strength found in this moment, however, is to name how difficult this is. Stop and say it. Connect with friends and loved ones about how tough it is to have your daily routine disrupted completely while simultaneously dealing with new demands and pressures, whether those be working from home, homeschooling children, or dealing with job loss or economic insecurity.
If we can simply state how tough it is and shed the unrealistic expectation that we must figure out how to “be OK” quickly, the closer we are to finding truly healthy ways to cope.
It’s OK to Feel Your Feelings
Denial is a perfectly acceptable coping mechanism, for a time, and is the first stage of grief. We’ve lost a lot: routine, predictability, schooling, work, special events — some of which had likely been planned for months — and our sense of control over our health and environment. It’s a significant amount of change and recalibration, especially because, much of the time, our minds work ahead of our emotions. We need to give our feelings time to catch up with our tumultuous new reality.
You may notice the next few weeks, months, or even longer, that you feel more sad and possibly depressed. We’re all staying inside more, which can be challenging for our mental health in general — lack of sunlight and vitamin D, lack of social contact, and lack of time spent in nature can all contribute to increased sadness. It’s important to allow yourself to ride the waves of your emotions and trust that they will change. Trying to resist your emotions can create even more frustration, anger, and loss of energy. Be patient with yourself — that initial emotional survival response will gradually give way to a more settled feeling.
Avoid “What Ifs” and “If Only” Statements
The anxiety you’re feeling, along with all of the “what ifs” that spring to mind, are to be expected. It is nearly impossible to avoid thinking about the various scenarios that could play out. A pandemic that truly impacts the entirety of the globe is something we haven’t seen in modern times. This is uncharted territory and it’s okay to admit that. . It’s tempting to engage in, “If only…” thoughts — this is the bargaining stage of grief and loss. “If only our president…,” “If only my boss…,” “If only my parents…” Just like “should” statements, these automatic thoughts can take us down the proverbial rabbit hole of anxiety.
You may feel angry about these changes — a lack of control over your life, having to stay in to protect yourself and others. Anger can arise from the automatic thoughts we have — the “shoulds.” “I shouldn’t have to stay inside all of the time,” and, “She shouldn’t buy all of the toilet paper in the store.” The fact is, we have a global pandemic happening and much is out of our control. Thinking in “shoulds” leads to further anger and resentment. You can only control your choices, actions, and responses. We cannot control what others are doing and the choices they’re making. Use compassion and empathy liberally; trust that you are doing your best, as are we all.
4 Ways to Progress Towards Acceptance
When you’re able to name what you’re going through, and express your feelings, you’re in a position to accept a situation. Accepting what’s true for you is powerful. It’s an authentic embrace of the reality of a situation and the reality of how the given circumstances feel for you.
Acceptance and commitment therapy is a psychological intervention used by therapists to help people move from feeling stuck by their emotions, to learning to move forward with their lives along with their emotions. When we accept our feelings as a normal reaction to life events, we let go of our resistances and free ourselves up to make behavioral and emotional choices that truly serve us.
Here are a few ways to move through this with the spirit of acceptance in mind.
1. Radical acceptance
Radical acceptance is choosing to accept yourself and your situation without judgment or criticism, exactly as it is right now. Our collective situation with COVID-19 is uncertain, there are changes and adjustments we all need to make, day-by-day and moment-by-moment. You can work towards acceptance by choosing to ride the wave of uncertainty and acknowledge that you and others are doing their best.
2. Mindfulness (beyond meditation)
Staying in the moment is critical. All we have is this moment, here and now. Notice what’s happening around you. Use your 5 senses to observe and describe your environment to ground yourself in the moment. Talkspace now offers free in-app meditation exercises, or try an app like Headspace (now offering free access to healthcare workers) to help with your guided relaxation and meditation. Mindfulness can include much more than just meditation — it’s about actively choosing to stay present with whatever you’re doing. Do one thing at a time and remind yourself frequently: “I’m safe right now.”
Writing down your thoughts and feelings in a safe, private space can help you gain clarity with what you’re feeling and allows you to accept them. Journaling doesn’t have to be something laborious or long. It can be a few lines at the ending or beginning of each day that helps you connect with your own thoughts and feelings — which isn’t an easy task in a world of rapidly changing headlines.
Finding things — whether big or small — for which to be grateful on a regular basis helps us feel better in general. During these stressful times in particular, keep your focus on what’s going well, what you’re appreciating, and the people in your life you love and care for.
We’re going to get through this together. Stay connected to others through phone calls, text, and video chats. Reach out to your healthcare professionals, many are offering telehealth at this time. And online therapy is always available with Talkspace. Start speaking with a mental health professional, today.