The COVID-Coaster of Emotions

And we are all on this ride together.

If you’re feeling like a crazy person right now with all of your mood swings and energy shifts, you’re not alone. Many of us are experiencing a whole slew of emotions as we begin to adjust ourselves to our “new normal” during the Coronavirus outbreak of 2019/2020. It has become somewhat apparent that much of what we are dealing with is related to the things we have lost and are now having to work harder to find.

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drawing by Avi Steinberg, Cartoonist for the New Yorker @steinbergdrawscartoons

Our reaction to this is most closely associated with grief. Briefly, the stages of grief look like this: Denial, Anger, Despair, Bargaining, and Acceptance. It’s important to recognize that the feelings associated with grief are varied and they do not know any type of order or timeline. They exist much like the ocean tides – coming in and out with sometimes no predictability of the intensity or duration.

If you were feeling in stride last week and had completed a home workout every day  and this week you are having trouble even getting out of bed, I want you to know that you aren’t a head case. You’re adjusting to a very serious and rapid change in our lives.

For a minute here, I want you to think about all that you have lost: travel plans, coworkers, dining out, graduations, proms, college semesters, weddings, sporting events, movie theatres, concerts, hanging out with friends, maybe your job and maybe even seeing your family. That’s a lot to lose in one shot! Typically when we are faced with grief, it’s usually just one thing at a time: a job, a relationship, or sadly a loved one, to name a few. This time the COVID-19 pandemic is costing us a lot! Like really, a lot.

So, you’re not going crazy. You’re just going through it. And by “it”, I am describing the flux of emotions that are coming along with your adjustment to the new normal created by a COVID-19 outbreak in the United States:

The COVID-Coaster, as I’m calling it. And it seems like, we may be in for a long ride.

I want you to know that things are going to get better. Remember two weeks ago when we could barely concentrate because every hour there was a new rule being put in place and ordered by our state leaders? That was a hard week. It was hard to stay calm when every hour it seemed like things were changing. Now, many of us have gotten accustomed to working from home and we are doing our best to remain at home. Slowly, this is becoming our new normal.

Now that we have some certainty about how the next month may look, you may be feeling calmer on a day-to-day basis. However, it’s pretty common to feel down about the situation since you have the time to think about what’s transpired. You might also be reacting to the mental trauma that took place when changes were unfolding.

If you experienced high anxiety in the first couple of weeks, then your brain was functioning on a hyper-vigilant and elevated response rate – basically in your flight or fight response brain triggered by the release of stress hormones from the amygdala (the part of the brain that helps coordinate responses to things in your environment and emotional response). One of the results of being in this heightened anxious state is the brain’s natural search of homeostasis to get things back to a normal baseline. So if you were functioning in a heightened state, your brain may have interpreted that as a “high” (adrenaline rush) and now you may be feeling the “low,” as a result of exhaustion and mental fatigue while your body tries to regulate itself.

And again, we do recognize despair (or depression) as one of the common stages of grief. So now you may be starting to feel the hopelessness of feeling alone if you’re on your own or sad that your vacation was canceled or really concerned about how life is going to look once this is all over. This is all a very normal reaction but do your best to keep in mind the old adage that “this too shall pass.”

While we recognize that the varied flow of our emotions is normal during this grief period, it could also present an opportunity for you to learn about yourself and how you handle loss. I recommend for you to connect to what you’re feeling through introspection and allow it to be there instead of finding something to shoo it away.

Repressed feelings always come back to haunt us, so I implore you to process these feelings now while you have the time. Keep a journal. Write it out. Write a song. Call a friend. Cry it out. Scream in the shower if you need to. Bottling up your feelings will only keep them around longer. The more you let it out, the easier it will be able to pass.

As you find the mental strength to try and move through and out of your sadness, be patient with yourself. Rome wasn’t built in a day and this “fabulous” (for some) work-from-home, work out at home, happy hour with friends from home life doesn’t have to become your new normal. If you need alone time, that’s okay. If you need to take a few days off of work altogether, that’s okay. If you need to shut your phone off, that’s okay. Find whatever it is that works for you to meet your own emotional needs.

Many of us are finding it hard to manage our emotions without our everyday distractions. Can you find the silver lining in this? Can you recognize the importance of feeling your feelings? It’s very likely that many of these underlying emotions were present prior to the Coronavirus, but you were too busy to see them. Take this time as an opportunity to meet your feelings. Once we welcome them in, the fear we have of feeling them disappears. You learn what you can handle. You learn about your needs and what you can discard easily from your life.

As we continue to move through the coming days, weeks, and possibly months of this pandemic, our feelings may be changing on a daily basis. Change and our growing comfort with it will hopefully become a byproduct of this event. And if we are able to go easy on ourselves during this time and try our best to go with the flow of our emotions, we will be better able to recognize and meet our own needs.

The time will come again when social distancing is a thing of the past. Picnics with friends will happen again. Weddings and graduations will go on as planned. Hugs and kisses and maybe even handshakes will be back in style and we will feel more grateful than ever for human contact.

But until that time comes, I encourage you to work towards the acceptance of the now. Now we are self-isolating. Now we are missing our friends and loved ones. Now we may be antsy, bored, depressed, anxious, scared, tired, sick, restless, or hopeless. And it’s all okay. It’s all going to be okay.

If you need help or know of someone who needs more support, please feel free to contact me directly and I will help you find the appropriate support. Be Well and Stay Healthy! 

Sending you a BIG (virus-free) virtual hug!!!!

– Aly