Mourning and loss on so many levels – missing milestones such as birthdays and graduation from critical illness and death.
Difficult moments made worse by fear of an invisible and deadly enemy who strikes with the very air we breathe.
This is the distressing reality of living in the age of the coronavirus for many people around the world. While some of us may be doing fine right now, experts are concerned that our emotional resilience will start to wane as the threat from Covid-19 continues.
“We are constantly living with a level of fear, an increased waking state, much like the Vietnamese and Iraqi veterinarians live with them every day,” said Jane Webber, trauma counselor, training counselor at the University Kean in New Jersey.
“I call it a” response to chronic threats “- the continuing state of being in a hyper-excited mode of survival,” said trauma psychologist Shauna Springer, who has spent a decade working with military veterans. suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, also known. like PTSD.
“The response to chronic threats is an escalation of many of the same symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress – sleep problems, floods of anxiety, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and a hair-triggered startle reaction,” said said Springer.
What are the signs that our coping skills are becoming worn out and that our anxieties may become dark and more dangerous?
“When nightmares become a regular thing and our quality of sleep is constantly poor, it is often the first sign that we may need to take action to improve our mental health,” said Springer, author of a new book called “Warrior: How to Support”. Those who protect us. “
Poor sleep is a double-edged sword: not only does anxiety create poor sleep, poor quality sleep can lead to anxiety, stress and depression, a kind of circular impact. The good news is that exercise and good sleep hygiene can often help get us back on track.
Focus on bad news
As we take shelter there, focusing on monitoring alarming media reports of the growth of the virus and the devastation of the economy is another red flag, according to Springer.
“If we spend our days immersing ourselves in this general anxiety and fearing what may happen, in a sort of rifleman’s hole awaiting bad news, this is another sign that things are entering a more clinical range”, she said.
“And there is the guilt of sharing our feelings with your loved ones, which is likely to happen when you have been in close contact with people for a long time and you have not adapted to it.” “
Loss of interest and pleasure
An even more serious sign, said Springer, is when we lose the taste for connecting with others and stop reaching out to friends and family.
“When we cannot find pleasure in anything and we start to feel numb rather than connecting with others and doing things that we enjoy or want to do with our lives, it is a sign that we may need help and support, “she said.
Impotence or debilitating anxiety
If the current threat from Covid-19 has aroused feelings of helplessness, such as violence in the home, or loss of identity and purpose after being laid off or taken off work, may also be a key risk sign, experts said.
“An overwhelming feeling of helplessness is what often leads to symptoms of trauma,” said Springer. “Those of us who have been laid off from a job may feel as if we have lost our identity, due to the lack of roles and relationships that give meaning to our lives, and therefore we feel helpless . We may be in danger. ”
Impotence can turn into grim and debilitating anxiety, which is another sign that we need help.
“Paralyzing anxiety is where you constantly feel overwhelmed with feelings of panic and this unnamed fear of what can happen,” said Springer. “You don’t have a sense of a hopeful future. Anxiety creates tunnel vision and really puts us in a fight or flight state.
“And when we are in this survival mode for an extended period of time, that is when anxiety enters a darker phase and that really warrants clinical support,” she said.
The fact that we are so desperate and anxious that we are starting to think about ending our life is, of course, a sign that immediate professional help is needed, experts have said.
“Military veterans say it is when “whispers from our demons” start to take over, “said Springer. When we start to write a story in our heads about how we will miss others or that we are a burden on those we love, that is an essential sign that we need help immediately. “
What to do to help you
Reach out and connect, but not physically. The first thing to do is to stay socially connected with your friends and loved ones even if you are physically separated. Technology is a great way for many of us to do this, but some family members, such as grandparents, may be as adept at using Facebook, Facetime, and Zoom, for example.
“Instead of just relying on social media, we can take a list of the 10 or 20 people we care about the most and put them on our phone in turns,” said Springer. “We will call one of these people every day. “
Next, Springer suggested adding more people to our outer circle of friends and associates than we might not be as close to and putting these people in this daily call rotation. This is especially important if you think these people may be particularly isolated right now.
“Reach out and connect with people, especially those who are particularly isolated, and give them space to talk about their experience and anxiety during this unprecedented period of anxiety and then to share our own experience is how we will overcome this, “she said. When we connect, we survive. “
Breathe deeply. During therapy sessions, Webber said, “The thing we teach the most is deep breathing. It’s free, it costs nothing and it really works. “
Here’s how to do it right, she says: Breathe through your nose, hold it and then breathe out very slowly through your mouth as if you were breathing through a straw.
“And when you breathe out slowly, you improve your image of life and you reduce your nervousness,” said Webber.
Practice gratitude. Science has shown that people who practice gratitude are happier and more optimistic – and you can easily teach yourself how to do it.
“One thing I recommend to everyone in scary times is to write a couple of things each day for what you are thankful for. It changes your view of the world, “said Webber.
“I am grateful for my daughter because she is at home with me right now. I am grateful for my son, the nurse. I am grateful for my other son who found all possible ways to get food online. all over the county, “she added with a chuckle.
Take control of your mental state. Tackle the clouding anxiety, experts suggest, by taking control of your thinking.
“One of the ways to do this is to remove a sheet of paper, put a line in the middle and on the one hand write the things that we cannot control at the moment, and on the other hand, ‘write what we can control’. Said Springer. “And then we form an action plan that allows us to move on to something else that we can control. ‘
This prevents us from “soaking up that feeling of helplessness or if you just sit in our shooting hole and wait for other bad news,” she said. “We are actually going on things we want to do with our lives, even if there are very difficult circumstances right now. “
For some people who don’t feel possible, especially if they lost a job or were put on leave when the economy stopped.
“Losing a job is a seismic stressor, one of the most stressful things that can happen to you,” said Springer. “But you can sit back and meditate on your negative situation or you can use the time to learn something new or to deepen or learn skills.” “
She highlights the many high-quality, inexpensive, or free training programs available on the Internet today that can add skills to your profession or even help you move on to something new.
“So people can use this time to learn skills and become smarter and stronger and better prepared for the time when the workforce fully regains its strength,” said Springer.
Establish a schedule. Our days and nights are mixed, and many people find themselves working longer hours or, if they cannot work, worrying about their finances. One way to fight is to set up a schedule that separates work or family work from play and play time, especially exercise, which is essential for boosting our mental mood. Meditation or mindfulness are also great options for planning our day, experts said.
“We have to create routines to get through this absolutely surreal world right now,” said Webber. “Focus on the little things like cooking a special way, knitting, crochet, meditating, paying attention, yoga or walking or running to do something physical to help us achieve a calmer mental state. “
Be careful with the media, especially social media. Be sure to limit the time you spend watching the news, especially if you feel it makes you anxious, experts say. This can also apply to social media, said Arthur Evans, CEO of the American Psychological Association, in a recent interview for the Washington Journal section of CSPAN.
“There is a lot of misinformation on social media,” said Evans. “When you combine that with a lot of conflicting information, it creates more anxiety for people. “
For example, he said, social media is filled with conspiracy theories and other false information that “contradicts what we hear from professionals who really know and understand these issues … thus limiting the information to reliable sources , sources of trust, goes a long way in helping to manage this stress. “
Make a smile. It has long been said that “laughter is the best remedy,” and this applies to the anxiety of our time, experts said.
“Remember, you can’t be anxious and smile at the same time. It’s a physiological thing, “said Webber.
So watch funny movies, listen to comedy routines, have everyone you talk to on the phone tell you a joke. Give them back by doing the same.
Stay optimistic. There are so many unknowns about this new disease that is terrorizing the world. Will it be alleviated during the warmer summer months? Is it better or worse as the world begins to open up? Worse still, will he come back with vengeance in autumn and winter?
Don’t let these strangers shake you or take your optimism away, said Webber.
“I consider optimism to be both healthy and an Achilles heel, because of course being too optimistic could disappoint you,” she said. “But if I had a choice, optimism is always better than pessimism. And optimism is always better than realism. If we hope the best comes, we may be disappointed, but that hope, I still believe, will happen to the person you love. ”