10 COVID-19 Emotions You're Not the Only One Having
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If your emotions feel like a rollercoaster because of COVID-19, you’re not alone. Almost every aspect of life on this planet is affected. Much of what we’re facing in this new reality is scary — from fear of getting sick to job loss, physical isolation from loved ones and just not knowing what comes next.
Because COVID-19, a coronavirus that causes respiratory infection, has such a big impact, there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to feel. It’s normal to feel mixed emotions, feel really angry one moment to apathetic the next. We’re experiencing a collective trauma, and whatever you’re feeling makes sense and serves a purpose.
COVID-19 and the Trauma Response
The COVID-19 pandemic causes so many of us to cycle through the stress response designed to protect us from threat. To survive, your brain’s limbic system, including the amygdala, shuts down the thinking part of your brain and automatically responds in the moment. It chooses a fight, flight, freeze or fawn response based on what helped you survive in the past.
Kristin Keliher, Ma.Ed., a professional school counselor, explained that your survival instincts may not know what to do with the threat of a pandemic since it’s new.
“A pandemic is not a stress recognized by the survival system so it cycles through fight. … If that doesn’t work it will try flight,” Keliher told The Mighty. “When there is nothing to fight and we can’t flee from this pandemic, our survival system kicks on the parasympathetic nervous system and chooses freeze.”
So it cycles through all of them trying to decide which is most beneficial. Fight can be seen as anger, anxiety, adrenaline rush. Flight can be seen as overexcitement, anger. Freeze is depression, sadness, ambivalence.
— Kris (@h2odancer74) March 28, 2020
Feelings About COVID-19
Keliher, who works with adolescents, said she’s seen everything from people being shut down and having no motivation or feeling tired, restless, worried, sad, overwhelmed, exhausted or angry in response to COVID-19. Whatever you’re feeling, know it’s valid.
Here’s why you may be feeling some of these emotions:
1. Fear and Anxiety
One of the most common emotions people are feeling is anxiety. In a survey of more than 12,000 members of The Mighty’s community, 92% reported they were feeling anxious due to COVID-19.
Anxiety can look like worry, ruminating thoughts, difficulty sleepy, panic, worry, and physical symptoms like racing heart, rapid breathing and tightness in the chest. According to Joann Wright, Ph.D., director of clinical services at Timberline Knolls, this makes sense because fear triggers our flight instinct.
“Fear is a natural reaction to a pandemic,” Wright told The Mighty. “Fear is also a necessary part of life. It keeps us safe and alive.”
2. Apathy or Numbness
If you’re feeling apathetic, numb or dissociated, you’re most likely in a freeze state, which occurs after it becomes apparent you can’t fight or run from a threat. Keliher also said trauma survivors may land on a freeze response if it’s in the past, “so the survival brain chooses what is stored in the memory as being successful.”
You may also feel shut down like you can’t take on anything else because it’s too much. The numbness may give you a way to temporarily avoid difficult emotions about COVID-19 until you’re in a better place to start process what else you’re feeling.
3. Sadness or Grief
Regardless of whether your sadness comes from not being able to visit your loved ones in person or from a canceled event, it’s normal to feel sad or grief. A loss is a loss, no matter the size. As Mighty contributor Lauren Rockwell wrote, sadness and grief can also come from recognizing the world has changed forever, which Rockwell calls “ambiguous loss.”
“We are in the first stage of grieving these ambiguous losses. But many of us don’t recognize it yet,” Rockwell wrote, adding:
The ambiguity speaks to the loss of dreams and futures imagined — the loss of things hoped for and for feelings anticipated. It’s the loss of those wispy, hard to get your hands around yet real beliefs about the metrics of the world. The loss of the steadfast feeling of our safety, and a sense that we live in a world where things are just, people do the right thing and rewards are fairly certain.
There are many reasons you may angry due to COVID-19. The virus has made going to the store more complicated nor can you head to your favorite restaurant with friends, which is frustrating. You may be angry about how your government leaders are handling the pandemic or the sacrifices people are asked to make as health care resources are scarce.
Anger, aggression and irritation can also be part of your fight response. Often, anger covers for emotions that make you feel more vulnerable. It’s not uncommon for people to express anxiety or depression, for example, through anger or irritation.
5. Hopelessness or Depression
Feelings of hopelessness or depression can show up as part of a freeze response, or when your system is so overwhelmed you crash. The future is uncertain, so many people are facing major challenges and the news about COVID-19 is often difficult to watch. If this feels insurmountable, like it will never get better, you’re not alone. Reach out for support when you need it.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
Sometimes people feel completely calm in the middle of a storm, whether it’s their nature or an adaptive skill from surviving trauma. Mighty contributor Vicki Peterson, who lives with C-PTSD, explained that she’s wired to be hypervigilant, which helps prepare ahead of time and even stay calm in the middle of an emergency.
“Because of my trauma history, I’m used to thinking about worst-case scenario situations. I do it on the daily,” Peterson wrote about preparing for COVID-19. “So, right now, I feel calm, because I know I’ve got this.”
Keep in mind while you may feel calm now, your true emotional reaction may be delayed. Peterson explained a post-emergency crash is what happens for her as the brain and body catch up and process what happened.
COVID-19 and its impact are hard to swallow — we don’t want it to be happening. Sometimes this can lead to denial or even an optimism bias, where you know something bad can happen but you’re less likely to believe that negative experience applies to you. (Spring breakers who ignored physical distancing recommendations arguably experienced an optimism bias about COVID-19).
Denial can be a healthy coping skill when it doesn’t put you in harm’s way. By pushing away an issue or downplaying the impact, you’re better able to absorb the initial emotional impact of a distressing event until you’re ready to face it head-on. Over time, with support, you’ll want to move through denial and process your feelings.
If you find yourself wearing out faster than usual, you’re in good company. The heightened anxiety, swinging emotions, changes to routine, extra steps needed to complete basic tasks, readjusting to a new normal, spending more time inside — all of these drain your batteries faster than usual.
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Does your health condition or disability impact the relationship you have with time?⏳Maybe the minutes feel like hours because of racing thoughts or high pain levels. Or perhaps the days go by in a blink of an eye when you’re trying to get everything done while also taking care of yourself (and others). With what’s happening in the world right now, it’s possible the concept of time might be amplified tenfold. ••• Whatever the case may be, please know we’re rooting for you — for every day you get through that actually felt like a year.???? ••• Image via @femalecollective ••• #mentalhealth #mentalhealthsupport #mentalhealthmemes #chronicillness #chronicillnessmemes #spoonie #spooniecommunity #invisibleillness #themighthsite #mightytogether #chronicpain #chronicfatigue
Shame might not seem related to COVID-19, but it can be both a part of your freeze response and a danger to your system. According to Keliher, you may feel shame if you or others are judging your emotional reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why it’s important to know your feelings are valid.
“Hearing that our current reactions to this pandemic are natural and normal can lift some of that ‘not good enough’ feeling,” she said. “Talking about our feelings and bringing these thoughts and behaviors we are having into the light will help reduce our shame individually and collectively as a society.”
You may be experiencing pockets of gratitude right now, and that makes sense too. Stepping into the sunshine after days spent indoors becomes a simple pleasure with extra meaning. A video call with an old friend brings a moment of joy and laughter, and quiet time at home with pets can lead you to appreciate small comforts when everything else feels out of control.
How to Cope With COVID-19 Emotions
No matter what you’re feeling right now, your feelings are valid and serve a purpose. The COVID-19 pandemic is not business as usual, so be gentle with yourself. Reach out to others and stay grounded with activities like yoga, meditation, art or journaling. You’re doing the best you can right now, and you’re not alone.
“All emotions are OK and valid and there as protection,” said Keliher, adding:
If we can control our breathing and take a moment to notice the sounds around us, our brain will receive the message we are safe in this moment and begin to come out of survival mode and back into connection/thinking mode. The more we do this, the stronger this reaction will be and more grounded we can feel through this pandemic.
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