Being a psychotherapist during the COVID pandemic has been an interesting (and difficult) experience. I have often joked with my clients during this past year and a half that I feel like a researcher in the field because I am experiencing the emotional shifts and responses to the pandemic with my clients as they are happening. The pandemic has caused so much extreme turmoil in all of our lives, of course, but I have noticed that it has also caused much more subtle shifts in our mental health as well. I toyed with the idea of calling this post “things you might be feeling that you didn’t know you were feeling because of the pandemic”, but I thought that might be a little wordy. So here is a list of those things, and I hope in reading this list, it might give you some validation and language to those things that you might not have had a chance to name.
Hopelessness & Helplessness
It was during the span between January 2021 to the year anniversary of the pandemic beginning that I noticed an increase in a sense of hopelessness and helplessness increasing. As the pandemic wore on, and as waves of new variants were cresting on the horizon, so many of us felt hopeless that no matter what we did, the numbers continued to rise. We felt helpless that people were still continuing to contract and succumb to COVID, regardless of the safety and health measures put in place.
Since the numbers have gone back down, and vaccination rates are increasing, I believe there is a decrease in an overall sense of hopelessness and helplessness, however these feelings could still be lingering for many of us. Paying attention to these feelings and seeking support can make it easier to cope.
Feelings of Stagnation & Existential Crisis
During the lockdown, many of us have been stuck at home, not being able to engage in activities we normally would like to do, see people who are important to us, or feel like we are moving forward in our lives. Many people have also been struggling with general fatigue and lack of motivation due to the pandemic, making it difficult to work towards the few goals that might be available to us within the lockdown. Because of this, I have been noticing that many people have been feeling a sense of stagnation in their lives. We feel like we aren’t moving forward, we aren’t reaching our goals, and there is something wrong with us or our lives that is causing us to feel this way. This sometimes leads to us experiencing a bit of an existential crisis because we might not feel like the things we are doing are in line with our goals and values. We might begin to question our jobs, relationships, living situations, and life goals. However, it is important to remember the context in which we are in.
This pandemic has caused a pause in so many areas of our lives, that it makes sense we might not be able to accomplish everything we thought we would be able to in this time period outside of the pandemic.
Increase in Frustration about Polarizing Conversations
Remember when we used to not talk about polarizing topics of conversation, like religion or politics? The pandemic has made polarizing conversating commonplace, like conversations around pro or anti-maskers, or pro or anti-vaxxers. Not only are they more common, they are also more difficult to engage in and leave us feeling incredibly frustrated. Previously, I think it was easier to engage in conversations with individuals that had opposite views because the topics we had been debating were not surrounding current decisions, nor were these topics steeped in fear. If someone did not agree without political affiliation, it was not as big of a deal. However, now that fear is involved, the stakes suddenly feel much higher, which makes our need to convince other people about our beliefs feel more dire. We become scared that if people do not adhere to our beliefs, it could lead to the deaths of our loved ones, ourselves, or an increase in lockdown measures.
It is important to remember that we do not have to engage in these conversations if we find them exhausting, and it is unlikely that we can change anyone’s mind when their opinion is also based on fear.
Decrease in Boundaries Between Home and Work, Increase in Burnout
Many people have been working from home since the beginning of the pandemic. Or if you have not been working from home, you probably have not been able to do many other activities other than work. Because of this, many people have begun to blur the lines between their home lives, and their work lives, or allowing their work to take up more time than it usually would. When we do this, we usually burn out a lot more quickly than we would if this wasn’t the case. Not to mention the amount of other stress on our plates at the moment that also contribute to burnout.
It is important to continue to set boundaries, even if we are working from home, around our workday, and to also seek support when we are feeling burnt out.
As much as we are really excited to have things “open up” again, I am also noticing an increase in anxiety about going back to “normal”. This is incredibly normal and understandable. For the entire duration of the pandemic, we have been told by the media, our government, and the medical field that being around other people is dangerous, and it is dangerous to go into public and be in public spaces. We have seen the consequences of people spending time together in larger groups. We have seen people be hospitalized and pass away. This entire time has been filled with fear and warnings about things in our lives we would not think twice about, like hugging, eating in restaurants, and getting our hair cut. Our brain records this information and remembers what is dangerous and what is safe, because our brain’s job is to ultimately protect us. These activities that we used to know as safe, we now know to be potentially dangerous within the pandemic context.
As we recognize this anxiety and sense of fear, it is important that we continue to remind ourselves of our safety, and all the things we are doing to ensure our safety.
The pandemic has introduced some different and new challenges in our society and culture, as well as our individual well-being. As we continue to progress in this pandemic (hopefully post-pandemic) world, it is important to pay attention to the things we are feeling and get support and help when we need it.