Danijela Mudri-Nicin, LMFT
COVID-19 Is Not Okay, But Your Feelings Are
Updated: Apr 13, 2020
“Don’t panic!” they say. Well, it’s a pandemic!
Panic, as a state of high-level fear, is a valid response to what’s been going on around the world lately. There’s nothing wrong with having intense emotional reactions to abnormal circumstances. I would encourage you not to "panic" if your hair doesn’t look good today, but please go ahead and allow yourself to feel whatever emotions are present in your mind and body. It's important to know that the COVID-19 crisis can be a traumatic event. It’s okay if you are operating in a survival mode. It’s okay if you are in shock or denial, or if you’re angry, anxious, sad, or depressed. It will take some time until we all feel strong, resilient, and recovered.
Some of us have the privilege of helping by staying at home! It’s okay if you haven’t organized the pantry and you haven’t lost those 10 pounds yet. It’s nice if you have energy to exercise more and take better care of your eating. I hope you’re getting more sleep. But maybe you’re an essential worker and you’ve been facing vicarious trauma along with being triggered due to a history of personal trauma. Maybe your past traumas made you feel calm, resilient, and not too stressed this time. In other words, there’s no right or wrong way to deal with this unique and historic situation.
A response to trauma in this current situation can look very different for different people.
We all witnessed people hoarding toilet paper as a response to trauma. There were also people who got into a lock-down with the last roll and then were forced to learn the reality of grocery shortage. There are people who are angry with God because this unexpected, unfair, and brutal virus caused tremendous pain and loss to their loved ones. There are people who sought God for the first time in a long time. There are people who started loving garlic. There are those who perfected one of grandma’s recipes and felt connected to their roots, tradition, and culture again.
Whatever feeds your soul is the way to go!
When people face a threat, the usual reaction is something known as a "fight-flight-freeze" response. We all know the therapists’ spiel on an appropriate reaction when seeing a bear in the forest versus anxiety provoked by modern civilization and our everyday stressors. But we rarely hear or speak about the "tend-and-befriend" response to stress and trauma. How many of you have felt an urge to check on a long-lost friend, offer extra groceries to an elder neighbor, or draw a motivational message with a chalk on your sidewalk? A neighbor of mine has recently shared that she has pulled out her 20-year-old sewing machine and is learning to sew masks for nurses at children’s hospitals. How kind and generous!
Tend-and-befriend nurturing behaviors towards community and one's self can provide a base for what we call post-traumatic growth. My hope is that many of us will remember these challenging times with increased appreciation of a more simple or old fashioned lifestyle where we have enough time to be conscious of our breathing or making sure we drink enough water. I remember times when I let work be more important than providing some basics for my body. Not to mention rushing through play with my child, or weekly Skype calls with my parents who might be still grieving my immigration. With wholehearted empathy and respect for those who have lost and suffered the most in this pandemic, I hope that we will all go through a collective reset of spiritual values and priorities.
Each day through this COVID-19 crisis, you may be experiencing a wide range of reactions. Fight-flight-freeze reactions and tend-and-befriend reactions can even be happening simultaneously. You might find yourself wanting to rest, recoup, replenish, reflect, bond with others, and regain energy to move on, and that is perfectly okay! Just like a butterfly in a cocoon, self-care (whatever that means for you) will help you build your wings stronger and prepare you to continue living your precious post-pandemic life. There will be a day when this pandemic is over and we will all need some time, energy, and strength to adjust to the "new normal." I hope for your "new normal" to be filled with more blessings than challenges, more gratitude, kindness, and appreciation for life itself.