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What Remains: Psychological Effects of a Pandemic

Sleep difficulties. High anxiety and deep-seated fear. Denial. Depression. Anger. Our reactions to our current state of affairs are as unique as we are. Universally, the pandemic is revealing on both individual and societal levels. Masks alone have become as divisive as political beliefs. The pandemic has stripped away our illusions of safety and security, leaving behind feelings, behaviors, and existential questions we might not have expected. Even for those who feel like “they have no reason to be stressed” because of good health and financial stability, are finding their reactions perplexing. For those who thrive on control and routine, our current situation is highly unsettling. The loss of normal and the implosion of perceived control have significant effects on our sense of safety on the world. Meanwhile, those who have their identity tied to busyness and productivity feel adrift. Who are we when we can no longer recognize ourselves by what we do? Who are we when we can only be? The extroverts are grappling with the loss of their energy source. Those who were already living close to the line financially are more stressed than ever. People who cope through denial are likely to be “under-responding.” Meanwhile, those who regularly witness suffering and trauma seem mentally unaffected as they accepted their lack of control before the pandemic began.

For many of us this is the first time our lives have been turned upside down on a large-scale. While our reactions vary widely, one thing is clear: this crisis reveals us. And like any life crisis, we are invited to self-examination and growth. When you are stripped of normalcy, what remains? Where does your mind go? What are your actions saying? How are you judging yourself or others? Are you feeling it or are you numbing it? We are invited to self compassion and compassion for our neighbors, including those whose behavior we struggle to understand. Can you see the complexity of the person underneath their choices? 

If we allow ourselves to be refined by this situation rather than struggle against it, what might we learn? What will you welcome back into your life and what will you happily discard? What can you no longer hide from yourself (e.g. the state of that relationship, the severity of the addiction, just how short your fuse is, how burned out the kids were)? Personally, I will happily reject burnout and continue more simplicity (unstructured time for myself and the kids, evening walks, meditation, slower pace). And I will welcome back the opportunity to hug people, travel, host friends, and support my clients in person. I hope we can use our newfound recognition of the fragility of normal life to practice gratitude for all the good we experience, all the love we receive, as well as the pain that brings growth.

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