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A Pandemic of Emotions

What is this new normal that is happening around us? A new normal that is aimed at physically protecting us from a global pandemic that is resulting in the isolated loss of so many across the world. Necessary steps like staying home, social distancing, quarantining, and flattening the curve, are all in place to guard our own physical well-being. Just one problem...this new norm is also resulting in another pandemic of emotional unrest. Emotions that are being unacknowledged, misunderstood, sometimes denied, and are for many unfathomable.

So how do we make sense of this? How do we make sense of any of it if our basic human needs of safety, security, and sometimes even food are not being met? And yet still, we are expecting ourselves (or being expected by others) to over perform at work and at home. Do all the things and do them all well; work, teach, learn, support, and parent. Overfunction like you’ve never overfunctioned before. Oh, and hey, do all of these things even though you may be feeling like your walls are closing in. Make it all happen no matter how much you feel like you are suffocating beneath the weight of the unknown, the uncertain and the unfamiliar. Because you know, there is also a global crisis happening too. And no matter how positive we try to be, there is no denying the undercurrent of uncomfortable feelings that we are struggling to make sense of. Let’s label some of these unknown and uncomfortable feelings that are shaking our already shaken calm

Unrelenting urgency - an ongoing white noise of panic in the background of our everyday. Urgency to continue to find new ways to care for our day to day. Urgency to get masks, wear gloves, conform to these new expectations. An urgency for this to all end and end soon, but not knowing when that might be.

Ambiguous Loss - this is a loss that is not like any other because we often cannot identify all of the actual things that have been lost. Similar to the feeling of having a child leave for college or an aging parent, the grief and loss that is experienced is beyond what can be described. If we look at our overarching way of life, it has all changed. We can no longer exchange pleasant smiles, we can no longer offer an embracing hug, we cannot physically connect with family and friends. All of this is loss that has left all of society with an air of collective grief.

Prolonged Uncertainty - so much is unknown right now. What is also unknown is how long the unknown will last. Both big uncertainties and small uncertainties, but it all makes a huge difference when it comes to our emotional stability and ongoing anxiety. Will the grocery store have chicken breasts? For me, the answer was no today. How will this impact the economy? When will it be over? Will things ever go back to the way they were before? When will it be safe to see people again? Will we be able to afford to pay our bills? Will this feeling of dread, helplessness, and anxiety ever go away?

Anticipatory Grief - being unsure when or even if we will ever see our loved ones again can be more than debilitating emotionally. The weight of this feeling does not need further explanation.

Keeping all of these feelings in mind, we tend to simply say “I’m JUST stressed” or “I’m JUST overwhelmed.” We are not JUST anything right now. It is all heavy. It is all hard. It is all scary. So what can we do?

  • Let’s label what we are feeling instead of saying stressed or overwhelmed. Perhaps that will create some certainty amongst us. Maybe you are feeling irritated, frustrated, scared, tired, angry, confused, lonely. When I hear you say those words, I can be certain that I am not the only one feeling this way. And I am feeling and have felt all of these ways.

  • Intentionally create some good, not just look on the bright side or focus on the future. I wrote about staying positive in a blog a few weeks ago (go back and read it if you have not already). I wrote about the importance of acknowledging all the feelings. It is the folks who are willing to acknowledge the good, the bad, and the ugly and then intentionally make something good come of it who cope best in a crisis. They then develop emotional resiliency.

  • Keep in mind that everyone copes differently. It is hard not to get stuck in the trap of dishing out our own judgments if someone is coping differently or making different choices than we might make. If never again, now is a time to offer each other grace, compassion, understanding, and support. We are only the experts on our own lives, not the lives of others. Our judgments only leave ourselves and those around us more isolated and more alone than we already are.

  • Take a mental break from news and social media. I have noticed more so now (and am guilty of) the tremendous amount of happy, smiling, positive social media posts. I am beyond thrilled, sincerely, that things are going well for so many people and those times are being documented as a reminder. However, if I am being honest, in my household it has been excruciatingly hard at times and quite frankly a sh*t show. You would not know it from my social media though. So take a break for the unrealistic reality that is being projected.

Our feelings throughout this global crisis will inevitably ebb and flow. We may wake up feeling awesome and ready to tackle it all or we may wake up dreading the day and wanting to disappear. Remember, you are not alone. We all feel out of control because we are out of control. Reach out and connect to each other. Know that we can certainly feel how we feel together. We may have to face this global pandemic physically separated, but we can face the pandemic of emotions together.