Normalizing Our Stress Responses During COVID19
Updated: Apr 10, 2020
I'd like to take a moment to shine a light on some difficult feelings we might be experiencing, right now. Identifying our experience in terms of natural responses to stress (and nothing brings on stress like the current period of intense change) can help. It's a relief to know, we're not alone in not being okay and we don't have to act like we are. Ready for more validation? Read on...
First off, everyone is coping differently and that's okay. There is no right or wrong way to cope during these uncertain times. It can be helpful to extend some gentleness to ourselves and trust that we're all doing the best we can with the given resources and circumstances of the moment.
Here are some common emotional responses to stress that we might be experiencing:
Depression and grief look similar. Both are characterized by feeling down and having difficulty functioning (getting out of bed or finding joy in what typically inspires us, for example). This is exacerbated when we get down on ourselves for having a hard time (I shouldn't be feeling this way...There must be something wrong with me...). Note: with grief, feelings can come in waves or pangs and can be mixed with more pleasant emotions or memories; as with most things in life, grief can be bittersweet in nature.
Ambiguous loss is loss that doesn't have a clear end, isn't clearly understood, or is halted. A lot of what we're dealing with, right now, falls into this category. It's hard to identify and mourn from the loss of our former sense of normalcy, for example, because we're busy adjusting to new policies of social distancing, sheltering in place, and otherwise surviving.
Anticipatory grief is grief for losses that have not yet occurred. For example, we might worry that a person we love will get sick and / or die or they we will be alone in times of sickness and loss. It's the anxiety of what is yet to come. Uncertainty is hard for any of us, particularly in the face of a stressor like COVID19. (Even the phrase global pandemic can inspire stress.)
Frozen grief is grief that doesn't have a known end, such as the grief of not knowing how, if, or when our lives will go back to normal, the way things were before COVID19.
Disenfranchised grief is when our loss is unrecognized or invalidated. For example, when we remain in denial about a loss that we have suffered due to guilt that our loss isn't as bad as someone else's, we can stop the grief process. But, grief remains until it is addressed. It's important that we try to allow our own and others grief versus try to compare it.
Psychological trauma is something that causes us to feel highly overwhelmed or helpless. We are all going through various levels of individual and collective traumas, right now. Have you seen the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn / tend and befriend responses in action? Think, how we become quick to anger, escapism (through alcohol or other drugs, self harm, perfectionism, sex, etc.), shut down / withdraw, or engage in compulsive care-taking.
All of these emotional reactions are hundred percent natural and normal responses to abnormal situations. They come and go and ebb and flow, like the waves of the ocean- or, a roller coaster. They don't last forever. We move through them. Talking, crying, journaling, or walking can help. We must move through our emotional thresholds. Stress needs to be released. Our cycles need to complete themselves. It is up to each of us find our own way of doing that.
Bottom line: we cannot expect ourselves to function as if these were normal circumstances. (Not that we should be compelled to keep it together all of the time, anyway, but especially not now.) Go ahead. Lose it when you need to. Just do it as safely and smoothly as you can. If not now, then when? Falling apart is part of the process. We don't have to always keep it all together.
In truth, we can get through some very hard things (just look at the history of our ancestors / humanity for evidence of how people have carried on through previous widespread crises). We will emerge from this different, no doubt, in some hard ways and in some really marvelous ways.
Post traumatic growth is real. It is possible that we emerge from this once in a lifetime global event stronger, having gained new skills, more connected with ourselves and others, having gained new perspective and purpose, and otherwise positively changed in ways we can't yet comprehend. Just as a few weeks ago our current situation would have been unthinkable.
We are all living through one of those times.
Take care out there. If you need some support, let me know. I'm here to help.