Editor’s Note: Felicia Kay is a National Certified Counselor and Licensed Professional Counselor working in Shreveport.
It is undoubtedly a stressful period in all our lives filled with self-isolation and social distancing. Amid all of the “check on your extrovert friends” social posts and jokes about how introverts were born ready for this, you may have started to feel some emotions you haven’t quite been able to place yet. But words like grief and PTSD sound so clinical and well, let’s faceit, scary, that you probably never thought of those words applying to you. We often reserve such designations for the loss of loved ones and people who have experienced significant emotional and physical trauma, not to mention our tendency to downplay our own experiences because someone else always has it worse, right?
As a counselor I do a lot of work with what is called disenfranchised grief, or grief that is experienced when a person suffers a loss that is not socially accepted or acknowledged as legitimate. You might have experienced this if you have recently complained about being out of work due to COVID-19 and someone teased you by saying that they wished they could stay home. The truth is we all have losses associated with this pandemic, whether it is loss of wages and work hours, loss of companionship, or loss of events we planned to attend. We may feel like it is disingenuous of us to mourn such losses when we know that others are suffering losses in health and deaths in their families. I want you to know that it is ok to feel how you feel and grieve these losses. In fact, it’s not only ok, its healthy. Get those emotions out!
With words like “crisis”, “quarantine”, and even “martial law” buzzing around media channels, its completely understandable that anxiety is running high and many people are panicking. On one hand, it’s important that this pandemic is taken seriously by everyone. On another hand, long periods of heightened anxiety can cause long term effects like acute PTSD. Some common signs of PTSD include nightmares, feeling detached or numb, guilt, panic, anxiety, anger, depression, problems sleeping, changes in appetite, and avoidance of topics that trigger distress. Right now, feeling anxious all the time may seem like the new normal, so we start to not notice it as much even though it nevergoes away. It’s important that while you are checking in on your friends (while maintaining good social distancing practices), that you check in with yourself as well and notice if you are experiencing long periods of excessive stress. Don’t let a panic attack be your first warning sign. Self-care is as important now as ever.
What can we do?
Stay in the present with Mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness is a great skill for staying in the moment and being self-aware. If you practice yoga, you are likely already familiar with mindfulness techniques. If you aren’t, I highly recommend searching for yoga nidra guided meditation on youtube or even apps on your phone. Don’t worry, yoga nidrawon’t make you stand on your head or put you in any twister like poses, in fact you don’t even have to move! An article on “Very Well Mind” has some great tips about using mindfulness for anxiety and PTSD. https://www.verywellmind.com/using-mindfulness-for-ptsd-2797588
Re-think your habits and routine
For many of us, our routines and regular plans have been completely disrupted. Forming new routines and adding new structure to your daily life now filled with pajama pants and zoom conference calls can possibly be the sanity saving technique you didn’t know you wanted or needed. We may also be clinging to those habits or routines that we still have out of a desperation to hang on to some normalcy while not realizing the added stress they are causing. For example, watching the news or scrolling social media for several hours may typically be commonplace for you. But if constant updates or news feeds filled with COVID-19 information is triggering emotional distress and you find yourself getting angry or overwhelmed, it may be helpful to cut back or limit your exposure to such information only during certain times of the day or only from a few trusted news sources.
Focus on what you can control
I know I for one, recently realized I was having intense feelings of a loss of control over my life in the wake of this public health crisis, and I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one. With everything going on around us, it’s important to feel like we have a handle on something… anything. Look for the things in your life that you do have control over. Explore your hobbies. Switch up your chores to break the monotony. Plan watch parties online with friends. Regulate your sleep schedule so that you get enough sleep but aren’t sleeping all day. Find ways to make meaningful connections with others.
Find something to laugh about
I am a firm believer in laughter is the best medicine. Judging by the number of coronavirus memes, I think it’s safe to say that many of you agree with me. I suddenly understand why so many nursery rhymes are based on events like the plague. I’m so glad that we are living in the age of technology with TikTok, Insta, and YouTube at our fingertips. There is something out there for everyone to laugh at. Make finding something funny part of your new daily routine.
We are so often socialized to ignore our own struggles when we feel that others are suffering more. Now it is increasinglyimportant that we share what we are feeling and experiencing with each other. Let others know they aren’t alone. Break the stigma of disenfranchised grief. You are not invalidating another person’s feelings just because you are upset that Taco Wars was canceled, I promise!