COVID-19: Ongoing Stressors

About six months ago, our world changed. There were warning signs from China, but most of us did not think that a pandemic could happen here. We were wrong. We have endured lockdowns and quarantines, social distancing and self-isolation, and more uncertainty than we ever thought possible. At times, this pandemic does not seem real. It is too unbelievable. It is too far beyond what we thought possible.

When life starts to feel surreal, it can be an indication that we are undergoing trauma. We try to escape from what our senses are telling us. Overwhelmed with reality, we cope by denying it. In the present, this can allow us to continue to function as effectively as possible. As time goes by, we can start to get disengaged from ourselves and others. We can stop taking good care of ourselves and stop asking for support from other people. This is the most difficult time in recent history. It is good to still be asking for help.

However, we seem to have mostly taken a different approach. We have become accustomed to the new normal. We go out less. We spend less time with friends. If we still go to work, our workday has noticeable differences. Life is not the same as it used to be, but it still goes on. The problem is, it is much more difficult than it used to be.

We have, mostly, stopped complaining about how much harder life is now. In a way, we have collectively agreed to pretend that the pandemic is not causing chronic stress. The way human conformity works, if everyone else seems like they are doing fine, then we think we should be doing fine, as well. So, we pretend. With the help of everyone else pretending, we start to forget how we used to feel.

Unfortunately, feeling better is not as easy as wishing it so. I encourage everyone to try and remember how much energy, patience, tolerance, compassion, and empathy you used to have. These are some of our qualities that can start to suffer when we are stressed. It makes sense to need more self-care today then we needed six months ago. It is not an indication that there is something wrong with you, only that you are human.

We will need all of the self-care we can get as winter approaches. We have just experienced a summer of unprecedented enjoyment of the outdoors. We found a silver lining in an otherwise bleak period of time. Being outdoors was an enjoyable and rewarding experience. It also helped us socialize safely with our loved ones. However, patio season cannot last forever.

Beginning in November, it is often going to be too cold for most of us to comfortably spend time outdoors. It is going to be challenging to adapt to COVID in the winter time. Having started locally in March, COVID struck at the most convenient time of year. If the winter seems daunting, or if you are feeling particularly bad on cold days, try to keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with feeling that way. It is a reasonable response to the situation. As much as possible, reach out to others for support through this difficult time. It will not change what you are going through. It will just make it easier.

Dave Ponak, R. Psych

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