Does your emotional status depend on the day, hour or possibly minute? You are not alone.
If you’re like me, you’ve noticed an increase in online content around COVID19 and psychological health. Because there is such a range of experiences in this pandemic, the topics are vast and what may speak to one sub-group, will be off the mark for others. I’ve noticed myself challenged when attempting to write helpful pieces, feeling sensitive as to how they might be read by those who can’t relate. In this country (and world) there are so many in survival mode while others, at least for now, are secure enough to “only” be facing the massive changes in family, work, school, social and community dynamics. But there is one thing we are all doing during this pandemic.
We are all riding on our own personal emotional roller coasters.
No matter who you are, you have feelings about this situation and how it impacts you now and how it might impact you later. The collective trauma yields different feelings depending on circumstances and how you typically deal with emotions. You might be angry in one minute, sad in the next and even hopeless the next hour. Perhaps you feel little to nothing as numbing is a trauma response too. Yes, mixed feelings and ambivalence can also be encountered as the roller coaster ride continues.
There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to feel. Your feelings are always valid.
Unanswered questions cycle through our minds on a daily basis, often fundamental questions about security around sources of income, health of loved ones and how life will be different in the future. The overall sense of ongoing loss is confusing and can even lead to grief being suspended, not allowing you to come into contact with it because the totality of it all is still unclear and overwhelming. Yet others may be fully aware of their grief or other strong negative emotions such as fear, anger and worry rotating through. And happiness can also happen.
Some seem to be able to notice the good feelings that come when an awareness of what’s positive in this horrible situation reveals itself (New York Governor Andrew Cuomo this morning spoke of the joy of knowing his family more deeply because of the extra time they’ve had together). Some are speaking of the benefits of slowing down. Even gratitude is unfolding. Like Andrew Cuomo, there are people considering how they will positively change when this is over. Unfortunately, in the big picture, the roller coaster highs are probably more fleeting at this time when so much uncertainty abounds.
Many are also cycling through desperation, worries about fundamental needs and for those who thrive on physical contact with the people they love, sadness for not being safely allowed to hug their friends or family outside of their cocoon at home. As we stay strapped in on our rides, we zip and zoom up and down from the highs of noticing silver linings and perhaps fleeting moments of, “I got this, it isn’t so bad,” to possibly very deep lows steeped in panic around survival concerns.
Perhaps your ride is less volatile and you’re noticing fewer rises and falls. That’s your ride. Because we all have our own filters, paradigms and unique situations going through this, no one’s emotional roller coaster will be the same.
If you are feeling worn out, emotionally frayed at the edges or over-stressed with your ride, it’s important to find ways to minimize this impact. Try these steps:
- ACCEPT This is really hard and it is normal to cycle through a variety of emotions. Acceptance of this and how the pandemic directly impacts you will make space for the next steps.
- SELF-COMPASSION Much time is spent managing the new conditions of our lives like school, work, exercise, entertainment and overall health. Self-compassion has a three point focus on 1) self-kindness, 2) recognition of our common humanity and 3) mindfulness (skill of being present) to boost your resilience and happiness. It will allow you to give yourself a break if your emotions feel “too big” or there is any shame around them.
- SELF CARE Be sure to prioritize yourself to be better able to self-regulate if the roller coaster lows are deep and lengthy. Take good care of your physical body, emotional and mental health. Learn ways to stay calm even when things are not calm.
- TALK ABOUT IT Awareness that you are not the only one riding an emotional roller coaster, find opportunities to process your feelings with a trusted other. Share them to avoid an unhealthy build up or showing up in other less productive ways.
- FIND MEANING In Victor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he observed how prisoners in Jewish concentration camps transcended their suffering. Can you find new meanings of this existential crisis? Is there new meaning to the extra time at home yielding improved or deeper relationships? Meaningful creative projects? Does the earth’s apparent healing help allow for a shift in meaning for you?
Now it’s time for kindness, understanding and validation of our collective emotional experience in this pandemic. No matter what your emotional roller coaster ride looks like, simply acknowledging you are on one is the first step in thriving the best way possible through this crisis.
Our journeys are unique but surely we share the same hope for health, security, the overall wellness of our communities and the world. One day we will be able to tentatively disembark our roller coasters, shake off the impact and look around with bright eyes at what lays ahead.5