The havoc COVID-19 has wreaked upon the world is simply overwhelming. Now as the societal tides seem to be changing and it feels that more momentum is moving towards resolving the pandemic, it can feel even harder as the pandemic continues.
I think one of the most difficult aspects of the pandemic is that this is not like anything we have dealt with in our lifetimes. Many of our expectations of having the pandemic resolved have simply been met with the pandemic continuing.
For many, the state of quarantine feels nearly endless.
Many of us are still stepping in the role of teacher for our children. We feel disconnected from family who we can only safely interact with on a screen. We are clawing our way to get a vaccine, silently competing with millions of other citizens. We hesitatingly participate in endless zoom meetings. We are limiting our movements to grocery stores, gas stations, and our apartments. Frontline workers continue to show up, day after day, keeping our economy moving.
Through all of this, a year has gone by. Three hundred and sixty five days of our lives, sucked up by the collective trauma of a pandemic. The quarantine blues have moved in, and, for many, it feels like they are here to stay. I am here to tell you that you have the ability to cope with the state of the world and still thrive amidst the adversity.
We Don’t Like Uncertainty
In my work with clients, I have noticed that the primary source of stress regarding the pandemic is the uncertainty. We can’t predict the future, so we aren’t able to be comforted by the idea of everything ending at a certain point. Human beings don’t like uncertainty. I certainly don’t (no pun intended).
You can see the phenomenon in children. How often does a child want change? How much kicking and screaming does it take to get a child to make a simple change? We often either have to set a hard boundary to tell the child that the change we ask for is inevitable, or coax them through the process of change, comforting them along the way.
I think that all of us, in our adult bodies, have this same kid inside of us kicking and screaming throughout much of our waking hours. Acknowledging this part of us and doing something about it can set it free.
The Pandemic, Our Culture, and Acknowledgement
COVID-19, to me, feels like our country is one big kicking and screaming child in the face of change. That dynamic was and is reflected in the political discourse, our collective actions, the policies for the virus, and the disruption in our daily lives.
The remnants of the incomparable amount of gaslighting from leaders who pretended that this really just isn’t happening is still in the air. The amount of denial that was ever-present is still lingering in the minds of swaths of citizens who were fed lies for nearly a year about the severity of the virus. And we must reckon with those remnants as a country.
I personally have compassion for people who were fed lies. I don’t think we can heal as a country until we start looking at all citizens of this country as people, without “otherizing” them. We must not “otherize” the parts of ourselves that are in denial and hurting, wishing that everything could have been different.
Reckoning With Our Inner Child
At the end of the day, we must reckon with the little kicking and screaming child inside of us all. The child who wants it all to just go away. I’m here to say that the little child inside of you that you often judge about how it responds to the pandemic must be approached with compassion and care. It is okay to be hurting. To some level, we all are.
What most of us are taught to do is to ignore the child and essentially tell it to just leave us alone. Cue the phrase of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” Hence the compulsion that most people have to avoid discomfort. For me, I see this manifest in escapist tendencies in people. I think that part of coping skills can include ways to escape from reality, such as video games and Netflix binges. However, running away from our feelings inevitably harms us.
To preserve our mental health, we must approach our feelings, recognize them, bring compassion to them, process them, and act to better ourselves. We can’t feel better until we recognize the child inside of us all. The kid isn’t going away: the kid will never go away. And that’s okay. In fact, sometimes we can utilize the kid inside of us for fun, imagination, and play.
Evolution, Anxiety, and Uncertainty
Part of our issue with uncertainty is in our evolutionary prowess. We are future-thinking beings, in a way that has allowed us to dominate the ecosystems of the world. This future-thinking is fertile grounds for creativity, invention, storytelling, and hope.
However, we run into issues when we live constantly in the future. In fact, living only in the future can be at the heart of anxiety. When we are constantly worrying about future potentialities, oftentimes we are disengaged with the present. In that disengagement, we lose the chance to experience small pleasures and be grateful for what we have.
When we are not aware of how much we live in the future, we aren’t naming it, or we are actively avoiding it, it takes control. The angry, screaming kid becomes all of our being, if we let it.
Back to the quarantine blues. Hard truth: if we don’t embrace the kicking and screaming childlike part of ourselves and we keep ignoring our needs, we will not fare well. Denial of your own needs will sink you further and further into the dread of the pandemic.
Looking for some support? You can schedule with a member from our team here.
Three Steps to Fight the Quarantine Blues
The following are ways we can triumph over the uncertainty, stress, and anxiety we are feeling related to the pandemic.
Step One: Recognize the Feeling
When you are having a feeling, you must recognize it. This requires us all to be more aware of our emotions than we may currently have the skills to do so. Be patient with yourself: learning to tune in and accept the emotions you’re having is a difficult process, but it’s worth it. In my opinion, it’s necessary for our survival in this crisis.
If you’re not sure how you’re feeling, check in with your body. Think about parts of your body that usually give you clues about what’s going on. For me it could be the sense of my heart fluttering, my teeth clenching, or my shoulders tensing. Once you connect to that part of yourself, ask yourself how you are feeling.
This can be a surprising experience. We may think that we are totally fine, but once we check in with our bodies, we may realize that we are raging with anger. It can be scary. This is why most of us (consciously or unconsciously) spend the majority of our waking hours disconnected from our emotions.
If we continue that pattern, we will eventually hit a wall and crash. It’s much better to acknowledge it now and gain the skills than wait for things to get worse.
Step Two: Validate The Feeling
Validate the feeling you named in step one. One approach is to ask what data your body and your emotions are giving you. An example I’ll see in clients are feelings of anger being a way their body is trying to tell them they’re afraid. You don’t have to jump on the train of the feeling you name. Think of it as data to help make better choices for yourself.
For example, if you feel rage in your heart as you think of someone who has wronged you, you may realize through validating that feeling that the data is telling you that you’re afraid of being alone. For most people, sitting in anger is more comfortable than acknowledging the loneliness behind it.
The following are examples of naming a feeling and validating it:
- “I’m feeling terrified right now, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, there are a lot of reasons to be terrified right now.”
- “I’m feeling angry right now, and I want to scream. I must be feeling really helpless, like no matter what I do in this pandemic, nothing will change.”
- “I’m feeling hopeless right now, and I want to quit my job and tell my boss that they are selfish. It makes sense, because my boss can be selfish. I must be feeling overwhelmed by all of my obligations.”
Here are the same feelings from above showing how many people do NOT validate their feelings:
- “I’m feeling terrified right now. I must be a child. Real adults don’t feel like this.”
- “I’m feeling angry right now. I should be ashamed of myself for being angry all the time. I’ll never stop being an angry person.”
- “I’m feeling hopeless right now, and I want to quit my job. I did this to myself, because I was never a good enough candidate to get the jobs I really wanted. I should just suck it up and keep going.”
The examples illustrate how powerful changing the way we talk to ourselves can be.
Step Three: Take Action
Take action. I talk to my clients about how, from a kinetic perspective, the way I conceptualize depression is lack of movement. Depression is inaction, a state of being psychologically and (often) physiologically frozen. If you are in the throws of anxiety or the quarantine blues, this step is the hardest.
Sometimes it can feel like enough to make it to step two. However, if you follow through with step three, your body and mind will be able to let go of the feeling instead of being taken hostage by it.
You can approach this by asking your body and your emotions what you need. Action can be in many forms, ideally involving some version of literal movement in your body. This can range from breathing deeply (where you should feel your ribcage expand, your belly rise and fall), to doing a full-blown workout, or anywhere in the middle.
Remember, if depression is the absence of kinesthesis (movement), then fighting depression requires movement.
This step isn’t easy for a couple of reasons:
- Many of us simply don’t know how to ask for what we want.
- It can become emotional to start thinking about what doing good things for yourself will look like. If you can push through the guilt and shame of years of ignoring what you truly need, honor your humanity, and give yourself what you need, it will be worth it. Simply put, you are worth the effort.
- Fear makes it hard.
- I think we are often afraid that if we do something to help ourselves, we will hurt more, because the emotion we are experiencing will become even more intense. Sometimes this does happen. Even if it gets worse before it gets better, it is necessary, because this is the only way to move through despair.
I’m not going to suggest specific interventions here, because there are thousands of different things you can do. I think it’s much more powerful to learn to listen to your own intuitive sense of what you need.
If you need ideas, you can google ideas for self-care, pay attention to the suggestions that involve your body, and ask yourself how feasible the suggestion would be for you.
We all have such different experiences and bodies that I would be exhibiting hubris by telling you what you can do specifically to help in these moments. Believe in your own inner wisdom.
When you find the solutions to your own despair, you are more likely to stick with what you find, and the sense of empowerment you will feel will help propel you to make more good choices for yourself.
Using the steps of “acknowledge, validate, and act” can help you move through what can feel like the endless stress we are all currently under. It can feel like an uphill battle, but we are all in this together.
You may consider reaching out for more help by contacting people in your life to increase a sense of connectedness. You can engage in self-care with people close to you to help grow a culture in your own life of acknowledging and moving through feelings of distress. You can be the light you wish to see in the world.
You may also consider reaching out to a therapist. Something I love about therapy is that the therapeutic relationship is a space just for you. Sometimes clients react very emotionally to the process of therapy, because having a space for themselves can be a totally unique experience in their lives. Usually this means it’s needed.
So to address the quarantine blues (or really, any depression, anxiety, or fear) remember the three steps. Name the emotion, validate the emotion, and take action to process the emotion. As you develop more momentum in your life throughout quarantine, you may find that you are able to cultivate simple joys within a period of societal distress.
Remember, don’t be afraid to be kind to yourself. The kindness you show yourself will inevitably spread to others around you. One act of self-love creates a ripple effect in the pool of the world.
If you’re looking for support, you can click here to schedule with a member of our team.
What would you like to hear about from our therapists? What are you looking for guidance with? At Best Therapies, we are committed to trying to help as many people as we can, because folks need it, right now. Write to us, and we will use your thoughts for future blog posts. Be well.