Some Thoughts on Emotional Responses to COVID-19

by admin on April 28, 2020

When dealing with COVID-19, I see my patients sometimes exhausted or overwhelmed by intersecting feelings.  Separating them out can help reduce the emotional load.

There’s a difference between fear and anxiety. Fear relates to what is out there and is actually dangerous. Being afraid is a rational response, prompting us to take care.  Some people have too much, some could probably use a bit more, given the foolish and risky behavior we’re still seeing too often. Taking precautions can reduce this type of fear, controlling what can be controlled. The spectrum of fear runs from denial to paranoia, with science somewhere in the middle. Focusing on what is known as of today is a sensible guide about what steps to take.   Keeping recommended guidelines in mind, we can err on the side of caution without drifting toward paranoia and becoming overwhelmed. Sharing ideas about this can be helpful.

Anxiety, on the other hand is often derived from past experience and evoked consciously and unconsciously by present circumstances, logic aside. Many are separated from people they care about or fear they will be, thus unable to receive or provide needed affection, attention, or love. This can provoke a universal sort of anxiety related to dependency. The fear of loss is often greatest for those who have not been able to fully process or resolve some losses they’ve already survived. That kind of anxiety is rampant right now, though each person has their own experience.  There is no virus, in a sense there’s only my virus and your virus.  One pundit said, We’re not all in this together, we’re in this at the same time.”  Both can be true.  I think efforts to help others and ourselves feel more “in this together” and less “in at the same time” are among the essential services.

There is also coronavirus guilt, people feeling bad for not being infected, for still having jobs, relative safety or resources.  Even having a decent day or good experience can trigger some to feel bad about themselves – which is different than feeling empathy. It can cloud or erase much-needed peace of mind. The flood of human interest stories which are relatable and evoke our empathy can be sad and scary beyond anyone’s ability to process.  Screening a lot of that out is simply necessary, a good thing for us and the people around us.  I recommend not inadvertently adding to the loads on others, too. Ask before sharing the most awful or heartbreaking thing you’ve heard today. I am not suggesting closing one’s eyes or giving up on helping, only that self-care is as important as other-care and it preserves one’s ability to continue to meet the needs around us. Attacking oneself does not actually benefit anyone.

Thanks for reading. I hope this has been helpful.

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