Mind Yourself: Dealing With the Psychological Impact of Coronavirus

mind-yourself

By Noemi Vigano, Chartered Counselling Psychologist and Clinical Lead for product research and development at SilverCloud Health 

The Coronavirus pandemic is causing fear, uncertainty and anxiety across the globe. On occasion of Mental Health Awareness Month we are publishing a 3-part blog series, focusing on the importance of protecting your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic:

Part 1: Understanding your emotions and how they are helping you

Part 2: Dealing with loss in the times of COVID-19

Part 3: Coping with uncertainty.

Part 1: Understanding your emotions and how they are helping you

understanding-emotions

In an emergency situation anxiety and stress are there to help you adapt and survive as best as you can. They are not a sign that you aren’t coping or that you are suffering with a mental health condition.  

Living through challenging times such as the current COVID-19 pandemic can be unsettling and distressing. Suddenly having to adjust - on a psychological and a practical level - to new and strange circumstances almost overnight, as well as dealing with a lot of uncertainty on a daily basis, can put a strain on you and your mental health.

In these challenging times you might feel a range of strong and unpleasant emotions on a daily basis. You might feel anxious and worry more than usual. You may experience a sense of loss for a lot of things that made your life the way it was and other important things that are now gone or on hold.

These are normal reactions to exceptional circumstances.

You may experience mixed emotions such as anger, sadness, numbness, and guilt, all of which can be exhausting.

 

sense-of-loss

 

How you might feel

Different people will experience different reactions at different times. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Below you’ll find some common reactions to these types of situations:

Emotions:
Anger
Numbness
Anxiety/fear
Guilt
Lack of pleasure
Hopelessness
Overwhelm
Boredom
Loneliness
Sadness
Distress
Feelings of loss (grief)
Irritation/frustration

Behaviors:
Withdrawal from activities
Irritability
Conflict with others
Avoidance
Overeating
Consuming more alcohol, tobacco or other drugs

Physical Sensations:
Insomnia
Headache
Agitation
Physical pains
Loss of appetite
Loss of energy

Thoughts:
Problems with memory
Difficulty concentrating
Feeling disoriented/confused
Denial
Feeling less worthy
Loss of confidence
Worry

 

While some emotions such as fear and anxiety may feel unpleasant, they are helpful because they motivate us to take action and keep ourselves safe. Here are some common emotions and their functions:

Fear & Anxiety

  • These are normal and natural responses to danger and threat. They let us know that we might be in danger and that we need to take steps to keep ourselves safe.
  • They are linked to the fight, flight or freeze response in the body. This involves physical changes such as increased heart rate (to pump blood to the arms and legs) and muscle tension (allows you to move more quickly).
  • In the current situation you might feel afraid that you or your loved ones will get sick, which motivates you to adhere to the recommended health guidelines (e.g. regular handwashing), which in turn helps to protect you from getting sick.

fear-anxiety-feeling

Sadness

  • Sadness is a natural response to loss and setbacks, which are an inevitable part of life.
  • Sadness gives you the space to pull back and process what has happened, and it can signal to others that you may need support and comfort.
  • At the moment you might feel sad at the loss of your sense of safety, your familiar routines or you might be missing loved ones.

Anger

  • Anger occurs when we feel that we or the people we care about are being hurt or wronged in some way.
  • Anger motivates us to take action to address these wrongdoings and set things right. It can also be associated with destructive behaviors like shouting or aggression. It’s important to separate our possible responses to anger from the emotional message itself.
  • In the current situation you might be angry about the pandemic itself and the unfairness of it all. You might also feel angry about the responses of other people or your government towards the situation.

anger

Guilt & Shame

  • Guilt and shame occur when we feel that we have done something ‘wrong’, i.e. something which goes against our morals or what we feel is expected of us.
  • These emotions prompt us to address the situation and make amends, e.g. by apologizing. They also allow us to learn from the experience and move forward.
  • For example, in the current situation, you might experience guilt or shame if you sometimes forgot to follow the recommended guidelines around social distancing and later became unwell.

guiltandshame-feeling

A simple exercise to calm the mind

It can be helpful to take a moment to slow down and tune in to what is going on for you right now. Ask yourself:

  • What challenges are you facing in the current situation?

Example: I’m stuck at home trying look after my children and get some work done at the same time. I don’t really feel like I’m doing a good job in either area. 

  • How are you feeling? 

Example: I feel tense and irritable all the time. It’s as if there is a big black cloud of worry hanging over me, casting a shadow over everything.

  • What thoughts and worries are going through your mind? 

Example: I can’t help thinking that if I was a better parent or if I was more efficient in my job, I’d manage to get everything done. Whenever I start to think about the future and how I will manage this situation long term, my mind starts to race and I panic. 

  • How does your body feel? 

Example: I have knots in my stomach and my back is aching from being so tense all the time. I’m exhausted and my limbs just feel so heavy, they’re like lead. 

  • What have you been doing or avoiding recently? 

Example: I can’t face the thought of lying awake in bed, worrying. I have been trying to wait until I'm really tired before going to bed and this is getting later and later every night. 

In part 2 of this blog series we will look at dealing with loss in the times of COVID-19.