Pandemic Life: 3 Conversations
June 2, 2020
Does it feel like you’re in a time warp?
Is making decisions and prioritizing a challenge? Are you easily upset? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be living in a pandemic.
Lately, therapy conversations related to the threat of COVID-19 revolve around three main concerns.
1. An altered relationship to time.
2. A reevaluation of needs.
3. How the central nervous system reacts to the pervasive threat of death.
Let’s start with time. Your normal routine is up-ended. The people you saw, places you went, and appointments you kept are just a memory. You’re not rushing to catch a train, changing your clothes to go to the gym, or squeezing in a visit to a doctor’s office during the workday.
You’re losing track of the hours in a day, and sometimes the days in a week. When the usual markers of time don’t exist, time seems to slip away.
So, create a schedule. Start with breakfast and get dressed. Act “as if” you were going to the office. Set alarms in your phone. Log off and end your work day at a normal closing business hour. Then, change into loungewear, cook dinner, and turn on Netflix – or do whatever you enjoy at home in the evening.
You’re unmotivated. Let’s talk about basic needs. The podcasts you’re listening to are preaching that pandemic lockdown is the time to be creative, productive, and write that book you’ve always wanted to write. So, why is it so hard to sit down and be prolific?
There’s an easy answer. Before the pandemic, you likely were not in imminent danger. Now, you live in fear everyday of contracting a virus that could kill you.
Maslow‘s hierarchy of needs purports that safety is the most basic need following only physiological ones like food and water. If you’re not feeling safe, you are not able to self actualize. Safety first, right?
So, take a breath. Be gentle with yourself. Practice all the recommended precautions to meet this survival need. Build safety and soothing activities into your routines. Meditate. Stretch. Take mindful breaths. If you leave your home, wear a mask. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. And remember, you can only control what you do – not what others do.
Let’s say haay! to the central nervous system. This need for safety is hardwired into your physiology. Your fight/flight/freeze/faint reaction helps you survive the threat of danger.
When triggered, your heart rate increases, muscles tighten, breath becomes fast and shallow, and other physiological changes happen. It’s involuntary.
So, if you notice you’re feeling aggressive, anxious, or scared, it could be your CNS working to protect you. Thank it for that and ask it to soften. remember that with coronavirus top of mind, it can be challenging to feel safe and secure.
Here are a few strategies to calm the CNS. Focus on your exhale. Put your hand on your heart. Imagine your peaceful place. Notice the tone and language of your thoughts. See if you can soften it. Sometimes, the way we say things to ourselves is what causes our distress. So, if you catch yourself saying “Oh my God, I can’t believe that person did X!”. Try to change it to, “I’m uncomfortable with that person’s behavior, but I can choose my next steps and we’re all doing what we believe is best.”.
These are unprecedented times. Notice how you are adapting to the new demands. Reach out for support. Check in with yourself. Stay present in the moment. Allow yourself to feel your feelings and always come back to gratitude.