As we are exposed to both the potential health impact and the media coverage of COVID-19, many of us shelter in place and may also struggle with financial, food or shelter insecurity. Many professions are on the front lines and people risk contact with this virus every day. In this time, I have noticed a variety of advice on how to handle this challenging time. I am a clinically trained person who also lives with PTSD, and I have concerns about recommendations that either may underplay the effect of our current conditions or may inflame anxiety and other health symptoms.
Some information may unintentionally downplay the effect of living under the current conditions. For example, it is very difficult to be productive during a crisis. If you have the capacity to work, teach your children, be creative, or find other outlets such as learning new skills, I applaud you. However, it is entirely normal to feel more fatigued, anxious, overwhelmed and more irritable than usual. Part of your energy is dealing with your valid fears related to this national emergency, so these reactions are common. Anxiety might also take different forms. While panic attacks are one manifestation of anxiety, there are others that many may experience during a challenging time. For example, anxiety surges are uncomfortable waves of discomfort that affect your nervous system and may be accompanied by bouts of crying. Other symptoms such as what I call anxiety sickness might emerge, including lightheadedness, dizziness and stomach aches in addition to fatigue and irritability.
Other information might be well-intended but may only serve to increase health symptoms in some people. Scientific projections, for example, are useful to those directly addressing the pandemic. But for me, looking at this information – which I can do nothing about and to changes frequently – only upsets me. While I trust the scientists to do their work, my main job right now is keeping myself as healthy as possible to do my work. This means protecting myself from what can seem like endless information and speculation.
Currently, in order to cope, I practice radical self-acceptance and self-compassion. I am afraid and at times I experience fight, flight or freeze, and this is normal. I take the advice I believe is helpful, and I leave the rest. I cannot accomplish everything I used to before the pandemic. I set goals and complete what I can. For me, drinking water, eating well, and exercise – even a short walk everyday – are essential. My cat Willow and I cuddle to start the day. I limit my exposure to the news and Facebook. I connect with people over text, email, Facetime, video and audio calls. And I allow myself significant rest time.
I refuse to think that our current situation is a “new normal”. After the pandemic, I believe normal might be different, but I choose to focus on familiar things that anchor me in this day, this minute, this second. For me, this means maintaining routines, such as playing our familiar radio station, going on a drive for take-out coffee, and having a regular sleep time.
So, accept how you are feeling right now, do what you can to maintain your health, stay in your moment, and connect with who you can. There is certainly grief in this time. But, as with all seasons, warmth will come.