All over the world people are dealing with the Corona pandemic. We are all suffering emotionally: healthcare workers, people who have lost their jobs and income or have gone bankrupt, those who have lost a loved one without being able to say goodbye, children who are kept away from school, people who have become isolated. We miss parties, togetherness, sport, and the positive effects of art, concerts and cultural activities. Some people miss going to work and the contact with colleagues. Working from home can be very stressful, particularly if young children are at home too. Relationships are being tested, even though many people are happy to spend more time with the family. Everything takes more effort and people are generally feeling very tired. We are all in a lonely grieving process: whether or not we lost a person close to us, we have all lost something, even if only temporarily. We have to postpone plans and put goals and dreams aside. And even if everything is going well on a personal level, we may be suffering from boredom. We are forced to let go of the illusion that we are the makers of our lives, and we are being confronted with death.
Our basic needs for contact, control, belonging and connection are not being satisfied. This leads to a feeling of powerlessness. It’s very important to be aware of our powerlessness so that we can deal with it in a way that supports our wellbeing. Feeling powerless can cause us to regress to childhood and periods of our life when powerlessness was predominant, reactivating old survival strategies.
It’s not easy to manage anxiety during this time. We have seen media images of long queues of military trucks filled with coffins and of gigantic mass graves. While these scenes may help us to tolerate the restrictions imposed by governments, they are also traumatizing. Fear is an internal signal telling us we are in danger. But some people find it difficult to allow fear and may even feel ashamed about is. In particular, people who have missed safety in their childhood can find it difficult to evaluate whether a situation is safe or not, because their alarm bell is always on. These can be the people who would rather believe that it’s all nonsense and that it’s not really happening, because a constant feeling of insecurity is unmanageable. Can we trust the other person or is he/she carrying the virus and therefore a potential “killer”? A friend told me of similar situations at the beginning of the AIDS pandemic.
Powerlessness can transform into anger, rage, aggression, anxiety, blame and the idea that we are the only one experiencing reality in a certain way. We can feel irritable, quick-tempered, suspicious. Paranoia – the idea that we are the only one who is being sanctioned – can colour the way we experience a situation. If current reality feels unbearable, some people will create an alternative reality. They can do this in different ways, for example by using drugs or alcohol or by immersing themselves in computer games or in “Second Life”. It’s also possible to completely deny reality and believe that it’s all a made-up story. Conspiracy thinking is an attempt to make reality more tolerable. As this stems from the need to suppress fear, it will in the end increase both anxiety and paranoia, rather than diminish them. Some people live in another version of reality and will feel consequently more isolated and disconnected. This, again, will create more fear and anger. This is why some conspiracy theories are used as propaganda, fuelled by certain political groups.
The pandemic is a trauma for people in every country. Understanding, compassion and self-compassion protect against the effects of traumatic experiences and are therefore very important during this period. This is our “make or break” phase. We have switched living together to surviving on our own. We can get stronger or fall apart. It’s now more important than ever to be aware of what makes us stronger.
What helps you? What makes you stronger? How can you grow from this situation? What are you grateful for? Some people have been benefitting from the slower pace of life during lockdown and are discovering new passions and creativity. Others have had more time to reflect on their lives and have developed new goals that will help them to emerge stronger from this crisis.
Personally I miss the contact with friends. I think I will just start crying when I can hug friends or family again, like in a scene in the Dutch missing persons TV programme “Spoorloos”. The hardest thing for me is when I speak with someone who just lost a loved one to corona and then immediately afterwards speak with someone who believes this pandemic is a plot designed to get people to accept a vaccine.