We’re all feeling the impacts of this pandemic, and each experience is unique.
During a time of being inundated by physical health conversations—and yes, that’s important—are we talking enough about the mental health experiences?! Perhaps the COVID-19 cadence can help us grant permission to ourselves to feel, be, and experience.
I’m noticing I’m having similar experiences to my patients. As a psychologist, I’m not immune to bad days, low mood, screen fatigue, or isolation. We’re in a time of collective trauma, and not acknowledging that is a disservice to ourselves, our community, and our planet. At the very basic level, I remind you: you are not alone.
Below are five permissions I’ve granted myself during this pandemic, and from time-to-time my patients desire the same allowance. Hearing them from a professional might be helpful, and granting yourself the permission can be healing.
1. It’s OK to feel scared…
Uncertainty can be scary, especially when life as we know it has come to a screeching halt. Stir in existential thoughts, a dash of misinformation, a sprinkle of mixed emotions, and what’s left to control? What’s next? Given the situation, our body’s physiological fear response makes sense; it can sometimes present as increased heart rate, poor sleep, and feeling constantly “on” or “on-edge.” However, our body is not meant to be in this scared state for long; we simply don’t have the energy and resources to sustain. So, we must acknowledge feeling scared/fearful, AND not lean too far in. One way is by allowing yourself to take breaks from and/or limit news & social media intake.
2. It’s OK to not be as productive…
For some, working from home (WFH) is not just working from a different location. WFH requires wearing all the different role hats at once, often with no [commute] time to switch. So how do we manage teaching kids, cooking meals, maintaining relationships, and keeping the house clean!? By acknowledging the things we take for granted and marking them as praise-worthy accomplishments. Credit the showers taken, meals cooked, opportunities to see/feel the sunny California weather (and newly refreshed LA air). These are wins!
3. It’s OK to feel lonely…
A lot of time in one place can leave us alone with our mind for too long, which has its pros and cons. It’s important to not socially distance ourselves during this time, but rather physically distance. Push yourself to connect with others—phone a friend, Zoom from the living room, or go on a virtual vacation! This is likely to generate a double feel-good feeling—taking care of yourself and your community.
4. It’s OK to feel overwhelmed…
Everyone reacts to stress differently. I’m going out on a limb to say most, if not all of us, are overwhelmed right now. The unknowns are great, the current work/family/child-rearing circumstance is anything but ideal, the existential fear of illness/financial instability/personal freedoms are all at the forefront. Perhaps some of us are even overcome by guilt if loved ones are helping with activities and chores (i.e., grocery shopping). Naturally, we’re stressed. So, we must allow ourselves time and space to be alone—even for half a second in the bathroom, or stepping outside for a deep breath, or turning on your car to ensure the battery isn’t dead! Creating space to be, breathe, and unwind is essential during this overwhelming situation.
5. It’s OK to say “no”…
Following Safer-At-Home rules would undoubtedly increase the amount of down time, yeah!? Wrong. I’m guilty of believing this, until Day 8. Everyone is longing for connection and socialization, coupled with the assumption that very few folks are leaving their house. Zoom/Facetime/WebEx meetings/screen time are happening all the time! Game nights, choir rehearsals, family check-in’s, and happy hours, not to mention work meetings, extra work you’re doing to convince your boss you’re working hard “enough” from home, kids’ classes. The list goes on! So, we must give ourselves permission to say “no” when we don’t feel up to yet another virtual hangout. Zoom fatigue is a real thing. With exhaustion, stress, loneliness, fear, and not-as-productive-as-I-wish at the foundation of our current experience, virtual hangouts can sometimes be the cherry on top of this too-much sundae. It’s OK to say “No, I can’t Zoom tonight, but maybe this weekend.” I promise, you’re not alone.
Bonus permission: It’s OK to be having a hard time right now. Many of us are. I encourage you to reach out when you need connection, or even professional help. It’s not uncommon to feel certain feelings more intensely, or feel things that you’ve never felt before, and thus, scare you. If talking to friends and family just aren’t enough right now, that’s OK. Talking to a professional during this time can be exceptionally valuable. Below are some helpful hotlines to know:
*National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
*Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Hotline: 1-800-985-5990 (people with deafness or hearing loss can use their preferred relay services to call this number as well).
*National Alliance on Mental Illness (available M-F, 7am-3pm PST): 1-800-930-6264
Slowing down doesn’t have to be a negative thing. If the to-do list isn’t completed by the end of the day, it’s OK! If the house goes one day too long without cleaning, it’s OK! If today is a bad day, full of low mood and desire to do absolutely nothing productive, it’s OK!
Although it’s never promised, the perspective of tomorrow can be helpful. I can add cleaning to my unfinished to-do list and feel more motivated tomorrow (and I have!)!
Stay safe, stay healthy, stay in-tune with yourself. Remember, you’re not in this storm alone.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for informational and educational purposes only; this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional psychological, psychiatric or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Dr. SAMANTHA MILLER is a Clinical Psychologist in Pasadena, CA and a contributing writer to jlife magazine.