What have we learnt from COVID-19? On Dealing with Psychological Difficulties

What have we learnt from COVID-19? On Dealing with Psychological Difficulties

When the lockdown announcement first came out in March (in the UK), I saw mixed responses. Many of us were indifferent to the situation – ‘We just got to get on with it right?’ Now what we slowly unpack is the building overwhelming negative thoughts and feelings. Indeed as the sense of stimulating novelty of ‘remaining at home’ fades, emotional negativity of being confined in a much smaller physical/social space of mobility floods in. We are soaked with mixed emotions – frustration, demotivation, depression, anxiety, etc. The tricky thing about our emotional health is that it is unseen and non-accountable. It is a marathon that we are unconsciously signed up for. In the usual times we seem to easily live without it. We don’t ‘need’ to think about it or pay attention to it. And then once pain and suffering hits home, perhaps we cannot even describe what emotions we are experiencing other than vaguely saying we are not ok.

Psychology is not a specialized or complexly alienating concept. It is our common daily ‘thing’; and in a difficult time like this it can even be everything we have to deal with.

And then now many people have pointed out the psychological impact COVID-19 has done for everyone. What is this ‘psychology’ thing in our lives? I talked to someone last week who began to find the own frustration of remaining at home unbearable. She has not stepped outside her home for over a month. She was been put a huge volume of extra workload in view of the changes that needed to be made for ‘working-from-home’, and she could not speak up for fear of the rumored significant financial loss in the company and the potential staff cut-off. Even initially expecting herself not to be bothered by the rumors, she found herself ‘bit-by-bit’ compromising to the additional and unjust responsibilities in order to remain employed. In her personal life, she was not able to travel to see her closed ones who are residing outside her living country. She questioned the meaning of her compliance to social distancing policy as she bitterly heard her friends who still went out daily to enjoy the sun. When you put all that together, self-isolation, the workload, lack of mobility, distress, that is fairly psychologically demanding. Covid19 does penetrate all areas of our lives. Those complex emotions did not come out at the beginning stage of the lockdown. We do say we ‘KNOW’ what emotions we experience in light of the difficulty when the lockdown happens; but only when we have experienced the experience then we finally ‘UNDERSTAND’ how such difficulty is felt and relatable to us. Psychology is not a specialist or complex alienating concept. It is our common daily ‘thing’; and in a difficult time like this it can even be everything we have to deal with.

Talking about our mental health problems – distress and difficulties now is as common as getting a cup of tea/coffee.

Mental health topics are more normalized than ever now that we are all experiencing tremendous difficulties, and that we know everyone is on the same boat. We begin to smoothly link our daily emotions with the mental health frame: our boredom can snowball to frustration; demotivation causes social withdrawal (or ironically this social definition right now is mainly driven by virtual contact); financial difficulties and uncertainty trigger a huge wave of anxiety and stress; relationship drainage/rupture when we cannot visit our loved ones. Talking about our distress and difficulties now is as common as getting a cup of tea/coffee. We become used to asking ‘How are you’ and not expecting an ‘alright’ answer. We have some expectation and patience to hear people share about ‘how they are’, and the potential difficulties and struggles.

Do not underestimate our ongoing difficulties. Our difficult emotions are real. We do not deserve to be suffering so much, and certainly we do not deserve to deal with them alone.

We are been traumatized by the COVID-19 outbreak. The catastrophe created is greater than what we can imagine. We are dealing with individual as well as collective kind of grief and losses. Many lives have been lost. Among those some fought knowing they were fighting and enduring a losing battle; others survive but still struggle to face the reality which is in no form of normality. The rawness of pain and suffering is too much to look at. They barely could escape the high state of anxiety this trauma has brought. It is still too soon for many, particularly the frontline professionals to describe the trauma of working and fighting against the fear of dying, and the fear of witnessing death. Even the fear of a potential positive case could set off intrusive worries, depressive assumptions and the flattened spirits. Few are talking about coping. For many more who may not have been under the direct hit of Covid-19, we shall not consider them as lucky. Like it or not, Covid-19 is a trigger for everyone as it magnifies a person’s ongoing and suppressed adversities. Undeniably we all have already been holding different pre-existing baggage even before Covid-19 arrived. As this pandemic hits us, our psychological demand is a lot more intensified, and the weight of such baggage becomes unbearable. This time our recovery is even more difficult.

What we are also facing is anticipating trauma. What we are mostly afraid of is not the actual event/things, but the fear of it. The ongoing situations may cause us to prevent ourselves from rebuilding an enjoyable life. Are we allowed not to be miserable? How can we face the guilt of the unequal burdens of suffering among us? What is more difficult is that we do anticipate the long term losses and challenges in the making. Financial losses, new definition of social distance, prevention of the second/third wave of Covid-19, bereavement/grief, anxiety and depression, relationship repair, political disturbance…None of these are concrete problems we could grasp or strategically manage. We don’t have a manual to get a perfect or at least effective solution. The more we think, the more stressed we become and that creates a vicious cycle of emotional anxiety and hopelessness, behavioral disturbance and deterioration of functioning. Before we even arrive at that ‘future point’, we already break down mentally.

We do not have an option not to face the anticipating problems and trauma. What is left is that we take one step at a time. Focus on maintaining well at the present time. The old tricks of self-care may sound boring, but they do work. Speak to different people. The more we talk, the more we share and listen, and then we connect. This is how we deal with our difficulties – we do not have to be alone. Take our mental health seriously by giving ourselves mental breaks. We do not necessarily get to comprehend our difficult emotions, but we can certainly take care of ourselves with the basic things – getting enough sleep, good food. Particularly we are still remaining at home, we may pay more attention at maintaining hygiene and exercise.

…because I am able to reflect on it and refer to it in the past tense, probably this speaks volumes.

In the foreseeable future, we will still be recovering from the ongoing psychological difficulties. We are still not reaching full recovery yet. But if we remain hopeful and believe in the power of hope, we will move on. We always have capacity to reflect on ourselves and our difficulties. Acceptance naturally leads us to change. We will gradually reach the point when we can refer to our difficulties in the past tense. This speaks volumes to us.

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