“If one more person tells me to be grateful, meditate or improve myself, I am going to punch them in the face,” I think to myself. Then I feel guilty for disregarding the less fortunate. Then I feel guilty for feeling more fortunate than others. And for the panic carb-ing. And for daytime drinking.
I am grateful for the heroes on the frontline who are serving hospitals and supermarkets. But none of us can feel one emotion at all times. I am stuck inside with myself and my psyche and sometimes I feel like I am losing my shit. If you feel this way too, here are some insights that might help.
Prolonged loneliness puts a negative filter on our perception of our relationships.
You Are Not Going Crazy
In the current situation, we can’t help but feel sad, fearful, disempowered, angry and isolated. Each of these emotions activates a survival response in our brains.
All emotions activate our senses in different ways in order to help us survive and thrive. “Negative” emotions (fear, anger) either give us energy to react or motivate us to slow down for recovery (sadness, depression). Our brains want certainty. In such uncertain times, our brains may be confused as to which course to take.
You're Having a Normal Response to an Abnormal Situation
When we understand our emotional reactions, we can refocus our energy on what we need in this moment. Here are a few “cabin fever” emotions, the survival responses that they activate and ways that you can manage both.
1. Feeling Worried
Worry activates hypervigilance. When hypervigilant, we are prone to believe adverse information and dismiss any positive news. Without anything else to do, our minds can fixate on our anxieties. Our fears about what will happen in the future can overwhelm us.
Let yourself feel what you feel: Trying to suppress your anxiety takes energy from other things. Don’t judge your negative feelings when they arise. Instead, notice them, acknowledge them and let them pass. Intense emotions come and go in waves. Even panicky feelings eventually subside. If you are having anxiety attacks, look up Patricia Bell’s YouTube channel for a walkthrough of how to manage them.
Focus on getting through today: Meet challenges one by one, one moment at a time. Convert problems into manageable chunks with tangible steps.
Do reality checks on your catastrophic thoughts: In a state of hypervigilance, we tend to exaggerate risk. It may feel like there is going to be a zombie apocalypse but feelings are not the same as evidence that it will happen. Reality check your negative thoughts using a free app called CBT Thought Diary by MoodTools.
2. Feeling Isolated
Isolation can lead to loneliness. Humans crave three forms of connection: intimacy, family and community. Disconnection from any one of these forms can cause loneliness. And loneliness messes with our brains.
Prolonged loneliness puts a negative filter on our perception of our relationships. We may interpret any lack of response as negative (from a text, for example) and imagine we are being rejected or judged. We might scan conversations for any hint of rejection. We are more likely to remember negative input and disregard connections.
As a result, we become more defensive and judgmental of others, which makes it harder to access the connection that we crave.
Seek out routine connection: Especially if you are home alone, find an isolation buddy. In terms of connection, the quality of our relationships is more important that the quantity. Zoom parties are fun, but the group dynamic leaves little space for emotional connection. Pick one person with whom you check in every day, even for 10 minutes. Agree to have each other’s backs and to take turns grounding each other.
Give others the benefit of the doubt: If you are unsure about an interaction, ask yourself, what is the best-case scenario in this situation? Or, how can I interpret this in a helpful way? Assume and act as if the best case is true. In his TED Talk (searchable on the web), Guy Winch gives a powerful example of how loneliness made him doubt his most important relationship.
Use your voice: It’s easy to misjudge the tone of a text. Call or send a voice clip when you have something that could be taken the wrong way. Call when you are unclear about a text.
Give get-out-of-jail-free passes: Most of us are on edge and everyone responds to fear differently. It is natural that we are going to annoy each other. Recognize that the little thing that is driving you crazy about the other person is not the real issue. Instead of a knee-jerk reaction, ask yourself if it will matter to you in five years.
3. Feeling Argumentative
Whether we are related, romantic or roommates, our relationships will feel the strain of our distress. A misconception is that healthy relationships don’t argue. It’s not whether we argue that is important, rather it’s how we argue and how we make up. Our fears can trigger defensive reactions, such as generalizing the conflict, lobbing insults, shutting down or running away.
Argue better: Show concern for the other person’s wellbeing, stay focused on the issue and resist the urge to react immediately. Do more than listen; strive to make the other person feel understood.
Acknowledge when you need to step away and allow them to do the same: Remember that we cope with conflict differently. Close quarters can make it difficult for us to get the space that we need. Give (or take) time and space to calm down, even by retreating to the other side of the room to zone out on the phone or TV.
4. Feeling Disempowered
Loss of control activates anger. Anger’s function is to give us the energy and courage that we need to defend ourselves or our loved ones.
Channel your energy: We can’t control what is happening outside but we can harness our anger’s energy to get involved. Volunteer your much-needed time or resources to a cause, or tap into a hobby. Become a volunteer listener and support your community. Pineapple Support provides free 24-hour peer-to-peer chat support to industry workers (PineeppleSupport.org/volunteer-as-a-listener).
Harness your courage: Develop the creative ideas that you have been hesitating to do. Throw yourself into your work or find new ways to make money.
Ask for help: Leaning on others takes courage. Now is the time to ask for the help that you need.
5. Feeling Depressed
Disempowerment can also activate depression. Depression puts a negative filter on our perception about everything, creating a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.
Shift your mindset: Recognize that you are an active participant in fighting this virus just by staying home. We are all in this together. We are a team.
Practice letting go: We are designed to seek control and certainty. Mindfulness trainer Leo Babouda explains that by “letting go of some of our systems and instincts to get control, and instead, accepting, even surrendering to the uncertainty and fluidity of this world,” we free up energy to focus on what we need.
Contact Pineapple Support: If you are having trouble coping or just need someone to talk to, contact us at PineappleSupport.org. We provide subsidized therapy (so you only pay what you can afford) and free 24-hour peer-to-peer chat.
Jena Field is a coach, therapist and psychology journalist who works with Pineapple Support and can be followed at TheMonkeyTherapist.com, on Twitter @monkeytherapist or on Facebook.com/Jennifer.Field.1000. Visit PineappleSupport.org for more resources.