How to Stay Sane During the Covid-19 Crisis
I was saying in my Instagram stories the other day that it took a pandemic to get me to start jogging, and it seems that it took the same pandemic to get me to start writing about mental health. This is a topic I’ve wanted to touch on for a long time and this is the perfect moment for it.
While I’m not a psychologist, I have read a lot on the subject of mental health as I have a personal interest for it. My opinion may not count for much, but writing for me is cathartic and if what I write resonates or brings some sort of relief to at least one person – well, that counts as a win in my book.
When it comes to any kind of health issue, be it mental or physical, I believe understanding the cause and the process is very important. In this case, we already know the cause, and while we may not understand the whys and whats of the whole Covid-19 situation, we can use all the tools we already have to understand the emotional process we are going through. Understanding what’s going on makes it a lot easier to find solutions.
While this may be a completely new situation for us and we may feel totally unprepared to tackle it, we already have the psychological tools to help us stay sane through it all. If we have a closer look, we can see clearly that one of the main things that we are experiencing is a sense of loss. We have lost our freedom, we have lost financial security, some of us lost our jobs, some of us lost loved ones and the list goes on. However, as tragic as that is, the flipside is that we already have tools to handle loss and all the emotions that come with it.
Disclaimer: If you’re looking for a list of “10 things do to at home during the pandemic”, this ain’t it. The internet is already loaded with that and I personally don’t think that’s the solution. Sure, it’s nice to have activities, I absolutely encourage that, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle. Before anything else, we need to work on our mindset – that’s the only thing that can help us get through this.
The five stages of grief
Grief is the emotional process that comes with loss and thanks to a very nice lady psychiatrist, by the name of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, we have a deeper understanding of what this process entails. This model was inspired by her work with terminally ill patients, but later on she noticed that it perfectly describes the stages of any type of grief.
Here are the main stages of grief, according to the Kubler-Ross model:
*I will exemplify the thought pattern that relates to our current situation.
- Denial – “This is not true.”, “This is just a flu.”, “I won’t stay inside, I’ll go out as if nothing has happened.”, “It’s a conspiracy!”
- Anger – “Why is this happening?”, “Who’s fault is it?”, “Let’s rebel against the safety policies!”
- Bargaining – this is where we start bargaining with our higher power, however each one of us perceives it (God, Universe, Allah etc.) – “God, if you put an end to this I will visit my parents each week!”
- Depression – this is where we start drinking all the wine, not getting out of bed and not showering for days – “We’re all gonna day, what’s the point anyway?”
- Acceptance – the final stage and the one that allows us to move forward. This, in my opinion, should not only be just one of the stages, but the key to going through all the other stages. I’ll come back to this idea later.
Please note that these stages are not linear, they are not predictable and some people may not experience them all. If you go through all of them in a day, that’s normal. If you get stuck for a longer period in one of the stages, that’s also normal.
Acceptance is key
Now here’s why acceptance is the most important of them all. The sooner you manage to accept the process and its stages, the easier it will be to get through it. If you need to be angry, just be angry. If you need to spend a day, or two or even a week crying under the covers, do that. The more you try to fight it, the more it will come after you.
You will notice that once you start accepting your emotions and your behavior, you will slowly start accepting the whole situation as well. It’s only when you fully accept what is that you can start to focus on finding healthy and sustainable ways to deal with your new reality.
Don’t compare yourself to others
Sometimes it may seem like other people have it all figured out, they went through the grief stages in 2 hours and now you see them baking 3 batches of cupcakes every day, jogging for 10 miles, organizing the pantry and re-painting the living room, while you’re on the couch all day, bingeing on “La casa de papel” and shoving your face with popcorn.
So what? That’s their way of coping with the situation, and blaming yourself and feeling guilty won’t help. On the contrary, it will get you into a never-ending circle of guilt and depression, which will only make you feel worse. We are different and process things differently, at different paces. Just cut yourself some slack and allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you’re feeling, for however long you need to.
Feel your feelings
On that note, I want to touch on another important subject. I see, now more than ever, all of those “Only good vibes!”, “Be optimistic!”, “Stay positive!” type messages, and I just want to stay: Stay however the f*ck you want to stay! If you feel it inside to be positive and pessimistic, then be that. But if negativity is all that’s in there, own that shit, baby! Find a friend who shares your feelings and just be negative together until you have enough of it. I’m not saying here that you should spread your negativity everywhere or that you should try to convince others how to feel. I’m just saying you should feel whatever you need to feel and not try to feel something you’re not feeling just because someone else tells you to. Repressing your feelings is not healthy!
I get pretty worked up about this, but it’s a very important topic for me. Especially nowadays, with the whole picture-perfect Instagram lives and the “only positive vibes” culture, we seem to think that there is something wrong with us if we feel anything else than positivity and happy feelings. And there really isn’t! There is a huge array of emotions that us humans are capable of and it’s normal to go through them all, not just those dressed in pink sparkles.
Be kind (to yourself and others)
Given that we are all pretty much feeling like crap right now, you doing something nice for a friend, relative or even a stranger might make their day. And it will most likely lift your spirits as well.
Introverts, now’s our time to shine! While for us social distancing is a dream come true, our extrovert friends are going through hell. Reach out to them, ask them what it is they need and if there’s anything you can do to help. You might not be able to throw a party for them, but a Zoom meeting is still better than nothing.
How to deal with fear and anxiety
As if all the crazy emotions caused by grief weren’t enough, fear and anxiety creep up their ugly heads to make the picture complete. As a long time sufferer of anxiety and panic attacks, for me this is not something new and I have my own coping mechanisms that I developed over time. However, I realize that for people who haven’t dealt with this before, being struck by crippling anxiety all of a sudden is a true nightmare.
While I do have tons of expertise in the subject, I find it a bit hard to give advice. The thing with fear and anxiety is that it’s so personal that each person needs to find specifically what works for them. Something that works really well for me might cause another person more harm. I might go more in-depth on this subject in a separate article, but for now here are some general ideas on how to cope with fear and anxiety:
- Talk to someone! Whether it’s a friend, a relative or a therapist, talking about what you’re feeling helps heaps. Most countries have set-up special helplines for those who are very struggling with the fear caused by the Covid-19 and I’ve also seen some therapists offering free counseling.
- If you’re really struggling, you might want to consider medication. You can try starting with some off the counter, plant-based or homeopathic tablets, but if those don’t work, talk to your doctor. A little bit of Xanax might go a long way;)
- Find something that distracts you. This is especially useful for panic attacks, when it’s really important to get out of your head and focus on something else. Try playing a game on your phone, reading something, doing crosswords, doing some light yoga – whatever rocks your boat.
- Try practicing mindfulness, meditation or yoga. If you’ve never done any of these, I’d suggest starting when you’re in a good headspace – in the middle of a panic attack, trying these things for the first time will most likely do more harm than good.
- Don’t watch the news! Just don’t! Once a day maybe, if you really must, but no more than that.
One day at a time
Once you’ve tackled all of this, you’ll probably notice there is still one thing that’s constantly there, in the back of your mind: insecurity. Not knowing when we’ll be able to leave our houses again, when we’ll be able to hug our loved ones, when we’ll be able to travel again or how our lives will look after all of this. Will we just go back to normal? Is everything going to be different? How many businesses will go bankrupt? Are we going to learn anything out of this? So many questions, I know. Unfortunately, nobody has the answers right now.
What I find helps with all of this, however, is just taking one day at a time. In times like this, when the future holds so much uncertainty, it’s simply too much for us to carry that load. Everything seems easier if you just have to do it for one day. So whenever your thoughts start to spiral down the “What’s going to happen next?” rabbit hole, just come back to the present day. Just for today – make this your mantra!