I’m hearing a lot from folks who are really feeling the weight of social isolation with this new COVID-19 reality.
Some were feeling like they were managing and suddenly feel like they’ve been blindsided by emotions. Others share that it’s been hard but now, nearly two months in, they’re barely coping. Then, of course, there are the frontline workers who are so busy and worried by what they’re seeing that they’re just doing what they can to keep going while protecting all of the rest of us.
Clients, members of our team here at Padraig, family, and friends – many of the folks reaching out to me or responding when I reach out to check in with them – nearly everyone is feeling out of sorts right now.
Some folks aren’t sleeping well as they struggle with insomnia, nightmares or anxiety. Tension is running high in some households, with even the normally calm personalities feeling irritable and cranky. It might be hard to focus, remember things or accomplish much.
Add to that that some of us have been sick with COVID-19, know someone who has been sick with it or who works on the frontlines caring for those who are ill, and we can include anxiety and fear to those other feelings of malaise.
When I was “Zoom meeting” with our Padraig team across Canada this week, our Admin officer, Tricia Hiebert, shared that she’d read a great article in the Harvard Business Review that this discomfort that we’re all feeling is grief.
That realization resonated for us. Collectively, we’re grieving the loss of how things were before COVID-19. Many of us, and you, have lost work and income and some have even lost loved ones – or we’re worrying that we will and that anxiety is palpable.
No matter what your experience is right now, we are all going through losses and fears while also trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy. It’s stressful, it’s unusual, it’s challenging and it’s sad. And, you might feel like you’re not doing as well as others.
Remember the five stages of grief? Think about them now in terms of what you’ve experienced during this pandemic:
Denial (We’ll be fine – some say COVID-19 isn’t worse than a bad flu.)
Anger (I can’t believe this is happening – why didn’t anyone plan for this?)
Bargaining (We can stay home for two weeks and then resume normal life.)
Depression (After weeks of this health stats are still bleak & unemployment rates are brutal.)
Acceptance (What can we do to work through this?)
This is a script change that none of us anticipated and the fallout touches on all aspects of our lives. We have an expression when it comes to feelings: Name it to tame it. Being able to name what we’re feeling is a relief and when you can identify it, you can talk about it and release some of it. Only then can most of us move through the thoughts to action.
Here are some ideas for managing grief and anxiety during this time of uncertainty:
Find ways to connect with other people: As humans, we’re built for connection and we need to feel valued. Social isolation has cut us off from our normal connections – and on top of that, now we’re stressed, perhaps lonely and worrying. Reach out to friends and loved ones by phone, on social media, or by video teleconference. Don’t feel guilty if you’re home with family and still feeling lonely! You might just need a bigger support network right now, so get in contact with the other people you care about and engage with them online. Be real and honest about how you’re feeling and lean on those people around you to get through this. Name your feelings.
Stick to a routine: When everything seems uncertain, a new routine of what we can control can be very helpful and comforting. Try to go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning, regular sleep, add in some exercise, drink lots of water and eat healthy at regular intervals. Remember routines can start small. If “get some exercise” means 10 jumping jacks when you get out of bed, that’s 10 more than you were getting before and you should be proud of that.
Manage information: Some of us are watching the news headlines compulsively, which can add to our feelings of grief and anxiety even if we don’t think it is. Tune in to the news at a certain time of day for a set amount of time and then get on with the rest of your day. This way you can be informed without being overwhelmed with statistics and reports. Again, this is habitual – only in this case, it’s breaking a habit. When you realize you’re checking the news app, or you’re reading more frustrating social media updates about this politician, or that company – gently remind yourself to do something else. Don’t criticize yourself for being “lazy,” don’t criticize yourself for breaking your “rule” of no longer reading this stuff during the day, just “notice” that you’re doing it and switch to something else. It’s helpful to decide now, what you will switch to when that happens so you’re ready. Maybe you switch to working on project X, or you switch to clearing up work emails, or whatever works for you. Tell yourself, in the moment, you have to switch for 3 minutes. In most cases, that will be enough to remove you from the news or the social media, or whatever it was that was distracting you.
Try to be flexible: This is hard for everyone. Many of us are having to revisit what it means to be a professional and adjusting our ideas about productivity in the workplace. Working with kids and teens at home and trying to keep them schooling remotely? Enough said. There will be really good days and there will be some really hard days. Things will not be perfect. You will not accomplish everything you feel is needed of you. That is okay.
Work through feelings of anxiety: The way we think about anxiety can have a huge impact. Anxiety itself is not a bad thing. It is a very important human response that helps us to avoid danger and tells us what is important. Sure, it feels uncomfortable when we’re in a state of alarm, but it’s a normal human response to a threat. The first thing to do when you feel panicked is to acknowledge it’s happening and that it’s okay. Then breathe. Deep breathing calms our nervous system. Racing thoughts? Try writing them down because journaling helps us to process our emotions and put them in perspective while slowing us down.
Turn to mental health professionals: Many mental health providers are providing free resources and even online consultations (I found Stronger Minds by BEACON on Facebook – a free digital program created by clinical psychologists that is free to all Canadians and sponsored by Manulife and Green Shield Canada). A number of provincial governments have contracted with mental health organizations to provide free online resources. You can Google for local references. Reach out if you are really struggling with feelings of depression, anxiety and stress because looking after our mental health is as important as, or more than, taking care of our physical well being.
Focus on what we can control: There is a lot of uncertainty right now, and feelings of fear and anxiety intensify when we’re facing the unknown. Try to sidestep falling into the “what ifs” (which usually get us thinking about all the worst possible outcomes) by focusing on what you can do in the moment. We don’t know how long this will last, but we do know that washing our hands and practicing social distancing is a good way to protect ourselves. Taking a walk in fresh air can clear the head. Turning off the video on a Zoom meeting is helpful when you just don’t feel like trying to be “on” for everyone.
Boost those feel-good hormones naturally: Our bodies produce hormones that elevate our mood (endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine). Know what helps get those feel-good hormones flowing? A bit of regular exercise, sunlight, fresh air, connecting with other people, laughter, singing or playing or listening to music and certain foods (spicy dishes, foods high in tryptophan and probiotics to name a few!). If you’re feeling low, it’s time to walk around the block, turn on the stereo (or iTunes or Spotify on your phone!) and have an impromptu dance party, sing along to your favourite tunes or swap funny stories with some friends.
Have you noticed your mood changing over the last few weeks? What’s been a struggle for you – and can you name it? What ideas above resonate for you? How will you remind yourself, in the moment, to use them?
Next up: What does being productive mean right now?