If You're Feeling Hopeless Due to COVID-19, You're Not Alone
As people around the globe adjust to help slow the spread of COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2), the novel coronavirus that causes respiratory infection, there are countless ways life as we know it has been turned upside down.
From a rush on toilet paper to job loss or moments in the sunshine we took for granted and now relying on technology to share moments with our loved ones, the only thing that seems certain is uncertainty. If in the middle of this chaos you’re having a hard time, you’re certainly not alone.
“This has been the scariest week of my life.”
Regardless of what you’re feeling right now, you’re not alone.
In a Mighty survey conducted March 16 to March 18, 92% of the 12,108 members of our community who responded said they’re feeling anxious, a 50% jump from a similar survey two weeks ago. Nearly a third of people who responded said their anxiety “extremely” impacts their daily life. Anxieties may stem from economic concerns, job loss, worry about loved ones, fear for your own safety and uncertainty about what happens next, among many others.
And while anxiety is an understandable and natural reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not the only emotion people are experiencing.
“The financial concerns, social isolation, and uncertainty about the future are difficult for pretty much everyone,” Los Angeles-based psychologist Liz Gustafson, Ph.D., told The Mighty. “I’ve also been finding that people are having past experiences of feeling helpless, feeling alone, feeling unprotected by authority figures triggered by the current circumstances. Traumas related to previous illness or losses are being stirred up.”
“I was not doing well before this crisis began.”
If you were already struggling with a mental illness, the coronavirus outbreak and the global crisis that’s emerged might make you feel like it’s the end of the world. Depression causes us to believe there’s no hope, and the constant reports of COVID-19’s impact on the world only exacerbate that view.
If you live with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or another anxiety disorder, the uncertainty that stretches ahead of us is a perfect storm of triggers. If you have medical trauma as a result of chronic illness, hearing about a potential shortage of ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients can send you into a tailspin.
“Life was hard enough a month ago or two weeks ago for people that struggle with depression or anxiety,” Jamie Tworkowski, founder of the mental health nonprofit To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA), told The Mighty. “Basically everyone is anxious and so you apply that to someone who is already or was already dealing with anxiety or depression and I think it can create a really challenging scenario.”
“I was doing really well, and then, COVID-19 hit.”
Even if you were making good progress in your recovery, COVID-19 may put you back in situations that feel exactly like your mental illness. If you were just coming out of a depressive episode and ready to rejoin the world, for example, being forced into isolation can feel exactly the same as being depressed. You may dread a relapse of symptoms or a return to a trauma-filled environment because your college closed.
Isolation also has a big impact. According to Dr. Gustafson, we manage emotions partly through self-regulation techniques like deep breathing, meditation or sleeping. But we also need co-regulation with other people, like making eye contact and feeling deeply understood. Social distancing makes accessing co-regulation more difficult.
“Not having those co-regulation strategies available to us is a big deal,” said Gustafson. “That’s why I strongly encourage people to use phone calls and video chats to connect with others. Text is good, but it doesn’t quite meet our needs for physical connection.”
If you’re really struggling with your mental health right now, you’re not alone. Everything you’re feeling, from anxiety and sadness to disappointment, anger and dread, is valid. Your feelings — all of them — are valid. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Seek out support from others who can help you co-regulate your difficult emotions.
“It’s understandable to be stressed by a major stressor. There’s nothing to be ashamed of about that,” said Gustafson, adding:
I then often ask people to identify the specific concerns they are experiencing so we can reflect on them one by one rather than having this big mass of amorphous anxiety hanging over us. We then talk about how to resolve specific problems or how to manage stress related to the things that are out of our control.
“Be really kind to yourself.”
The most important thing you can do right now is to keep connecting with other people. It can take a monumental effort to do this if you’re feeling hopeless or completely alone. But, thanks to technology, there are many ways you can reach out for support in ways big and small. Do what works best for you in this moment — and be kind to yourself.
Start with your loved ones and the people you rely on in your life, and check out the following resources to find therapists who are doing video sessions, peer support, resources for passing the time and more:
- Contact the Crisis Text Line for 24/7 emergency support via text
- Use TWLOHA’s Find Help tool to connect with local mental health professionals (many of whom offer video sessions) and check out the self-care page for more ideas
- Connect with The Mighty’s community to chat with others who’ve been there, find ideas for coping with social isolation and join a virtual hangout