If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’re well aware of the global pandemic happening right now called Coronavirus. It causes an illness called COVID-19 and because it’s a new illness, no one has immunity against it. Meaning, if you come into contact with it, you will get it.
Now, how severely you get it depends on things like your age and any underlying medical conditions, like heart disease, respiratory disease, and other chronic illnesses like cancer. For real, if you don’t know what I’m talking about crack a book aka do some Googling or just, like, look outside because I’m sure many people will tell you about it.
Here in Seattle, we are US ground zero for this thing. We had the first known case and have been dealing with progressively more and more intense measures to prevent spread. Right now, schools are closed, you can’t eat in a restaurant or bar, no sports, no arts, museums are closed, anything where you can have close proximity to someone is off limits.
People are getting wild.
I’ve been noticing my own increase in anxiety. It’s somewhat related to COVID-19 and somewhat related to grief.
There are lots of guides now about how to survive isolation, how to stock up on supplies, how to have interactions without physical contact, but I want to address what to do if you are just being…weird right now.
What does that look like?
First of all, you’ll know what I’m talking about if you recently have been thinking about past traumas. Everything from intense abuse and assault to that time in seventh grade you were called a whale by that kid in science class. It’s probably emerging at regular and strange moments and you may not have really noticed it’s happening until someone else brings it up. Or until you’re trying to sleep at night and replaying the fight you had with a friend 15 years ago.
Second of all, you might be regressing in some learned behaviors. So, if you’ve done work to improve coping strategies with everything from conflict to eating disorders, you may be noticing these behaviors re-emerging. Are you starting to obsess about your body? Are you not communicating as clearly with your partner or other loved ones? Are you bottling up feelings instead of safely and appropriately expressing them?
Third of all, you may start to really dislike a lot of people you love. Like, evaluating friendships and how much that person actually means to you. Maybe rethinking future contact or how your friends align or don’t align with you. You may even be contemplating divorce.
Finally, you may be doing none of this and instead having eyeroll-type reactions to people who are anxious about this whole thing. You may be belittling their experience. You may be discounting their advice as them just being crazy. You may be blatantly disregarding parts or all of the CDC guidelines and feeling quietly superior to those freaking out.
If you’re doing any/all of this, hey, hi, hello. Let’s chat.
What to do about it
Have grace. This means that while people are being more intense than usual, give them space, give yourself space. Like literally, decrease the amount of contact you have with people in every form. Have very generous interpretations of their behavior. Did someone do something that annoys you? Try reframing it to think about how they are scared for you. Check in with someone to see if your perception of their action was their intention. And then if it wasn’t, avoid lecturing on intent versus impact and instead try again.
Take care. If you are experiencing reactions within yourself that you previously found distressing, increase your measures to soothe your nervous system. Drink a lot. No, not alcohol! Water. Dehydration can make our brains do some weird stuff. Also anything that makes you feel better. If you need to lean into foods that make you feel good, either from a comfort or health perspective, do it.
If you are home alone with your children, oh, baby. I feel for you. I’m lucky enough that my kiddo’s preschool is staying open for now, so I’m not totally dealing with this. But, the public health specialist at preschool told me that having contact with small groups, like a healthy friend and their healthy kiddo, with ample hand washing, is considered ok for now. So we’ve been keeping our interactions to just that: a healthy friend and their healthy kiddo with ample hand washing.
Put a pin in it. If you have some tension with a friend or family member during this time, catalogue it, and then put a pin in it. People’s behavior right now is not an indication of who they “truly” are. It’s showing us people in the midst of panic, deep worry, a lack of stability and connection, it’s all things that make people’s deepest fears flare up. It’s hard to not make sweeping judgments about someone based on their behavior now, but try your best not to. Instead, note the behavior, note if it’s a pattern, and then decide if you want to engage right now using my criteria for having difficult conversations.
Avoid festering. If you are feeling tapped out, overwhelmed, on edge, don’t continue. Just don’t. Don’t make it worse. Don’t dig yourself a hole. Don’t put relationships with loved ones at risk because you’re trying to continue. Instead, take a break, do something that feels good. And if you’re so overwhelmed you don’t know where to start, treat yourself like a complicated plant and drink some water and go out into the sun. In Seattle, we’re experiencing some beautiful late winter weather, so even just going outside and standing with your face to the sun like the gorgeous sunflower you are will make a difference.
Get a therapist. If you’re having a hard time and can’t seem to shake the icky feelings, get a therapist. Pretty much all of them are conducting virtual sessions right now and the work can still be very effective this way. If you’d like some matchmaking with a potential therapist, let me know. I know, like, a bunch.
Re: The Workplace. If you’re a manager or leader trying to come up with structure and policy during this global health crisis, I recently wrote an Instagram post with my thoughts on this. Read more here. For real, it’s a pretty easy and straightforward way to give yourself and your workers some help in a totally novel situation.
We’ll get through this, friends. We don’t know how, or what it looks like on the other side, but we’ll get through it. Take care of your mental health in addition to your physical health.