Mental Health in the Apocalypse
The global pandemic of Coronavirus or COVID-19 is affecting us all. The time practicing social distancing, or being “exiled for the good of the realm” as one post by @sarklor on Twitter put it- has inspired me to get back to the keyboard and write. Putting words to our experience during times of global or personal crises is sometimes… messy. However, I find it better to attempt it than not at all.
Some things to look out for that you might be experiencing:
1. Information Overload
Phew, this is a big one. This information comes in many forms: constant news updates about the pandemic; what’s closing down locally, what’s happening across the globe, where we are in the prediction of spread of the virus, etc.
A more sneaky form of information overload is relational. This refers to how others are responding to the news and situation. Enter our dear friends Compare and Contrast- they love this stuff. Also, people are resorting to shaming other folks for how they are responding. Some experts refer to shaming as appropriate for setting social boundaries at times to keep people from doing bad things to each other. Maybe this is a situation that warrants that, maybe not. I’m not going to take sides for the purpose of this blog.
More to the point, feeling ashamed doesn’t typically lead us to break down our inner walls and say “you know what, you’re right- I’m super open to what you’re saying right now.” Unless you’re reading that sarcastically. This is exactly when we need to feel more open to others and help build that sense of community togetherness.
So, if you find yourself wanting to say:
“You idiot, stay inside!” say instead something like “I want to understand where you’re coming from, and am open to all your emotional responses. Here’s where I’m coming from…”
Or you can just voice your frustrations with a trusted other like in therapy.
2. Fight or Flight/ Adrenaline Response
This actually relates somewhat to the information overload when we are around others –such as a grocery store- during this time. We pick up on the energy of others, and sometimes that energy is overwhelming. Depending on our own history of how our nervous system has responded in times of danger or threat, our bodies can lean into this tried and true method of keeping you safe by engaging in fight or flight mode. The only problem is that its’ exhausting. We are not built to sustain fight/flight/freeze responses for long periods of time.
If you know you’re needing to go to the grocery store soon, one thing you can do is make a mini self-care plan around it.
What do you need to do before, during, and after to help communicate to your nervous system that you’re safe?
Some ideas: taking deep breaths before you enter the store; whatever cleaning rituals you need afterwards; clearing plenty of time to go in case you hit a line; trying to make gentle eye contact with others and smiling; creating a kind act for others while there; essentially seeking messages of safety from yourself and others.
We are just getting started into an unknown amount of time of self-isolation and social distancing. For some introverts this is already your norm. I’ve even heard some silver linings like FOMO is lessened because no one is doing anything! On the flip side, for some your systems are very in tune with feelings of rejection. Of course, everyone is in a similar boat with distancing, but receiving messages that others don’t want to be near you can bring up old emotional pain.
Another thing to keep in mind is the possibility that stillness bring up feelings of fear or at the very least discomfort. A good way to check in with this in a general sense is if you’re the type that’s “not good” at being sick; resting; self-care; or meditating quietly. Moments of external quiet mean our inner life volume gets turned up.
Some things to try to lessen the impact of loneliness.
Move any get-togethers and activities you had planned online. Some folks are getting really creative with how to share differently: things like sharing pictures from childhood; creating playlists for your friends; giving virtual tours of your homes; watching movies together through watch parties, etc. Essentially anything that helps you to feel connected to the others in your life.
4. Uncertainty and Existential Dread
Let’s end with everyone’s favorite topic: existential dread. It’s a topic that might have crept up for you at moments of change or uncertainty in your life. This is a big one that’s affecting us all in different ways. At the best of times, people are hopeful that this pandemic might bring about social and systemic change to give weight to human rights. However, on a more personal level some folks are suffering.
This suffering is mostly rearing its head in the form of job security (or lack thereof), fear of running out of food, resources, and uncertainty of when the new normal is going to come about.
One of three reactions might occur:
1) Rigidity. Holding on tight your own belief and meaning system, and find confirmation that what’s happening adheres to your beliefs.
2) Chaos. Sheer chaos! But really, our belief systems might be too slippery right now to hold on tight. So, we may enter that depressive, collapsed, void-like state of meaninglessness that characterizes dread.
3) Flexibility. Allowing current events to both confirm previous beliefs, and potentially help us to take a look at our meaning systems to shape them in new ways that make sense.
On a more practical level, what can you do to help contain the dread?
All of this philosophical thinking (which okay, may be fun for some of you!) might you’re your inner resources shift to dissociate a bit. Dissociating is not a bad thing necessarily, but we don’t want to live there. Be mindful of when you have space to process these big questions, and then practicing essentially compartmentalizing to continue your daily living. A good way to practice this is through a container meditations- this is a decent one.
My hope is that reading through these pieces will help you to feel you’re not the only one going through these deeply complex emotions and experiences. If you’re able to prioritize your mental health right now, I am taking a few new clients via telehealth in Austin, TX. We will get through this.
Here is a picture of a cat feeling very safe to help soothe your nervous system:
Julia Stamman, LPC
Hi, I’m Julia! I’m an LPC (licensed professional counselor) practicing in South Austin. I understand the personal importance of a therapist groking my lifestyle, so I started helping others who identify as geeks, gamers, and/or misfits. Over time, I realized that I’m passionate about attachment-related trauma, social anxiety, and neurodiversity. On this blog, I write on topics like the overlap of alternative culture and mental health, and how to find services catered to these lifestyles.