Pay Attention to Your Mental Health
These trying times are hard on us psychologically.
Posted March 16, 2020
With the focus on the very real threat of the coronavirus to our physical health, it is easy to overlook the impact that this pandemic is having on our mental health. The virus and our necessary response to it are creating two of the emotional conditions that are the most detrimental to our mental health: fear and isolation.
The coronavirus has our existential fears going through the roof! We are terrified because this deadly virus seems to be everywhere, and so much is unknown. There is no vaccine or cure for it yet. We don't know who has it. People aren't being tested for it. Whole cities and countries are being quarantined.
When our death anxiety is aroused, we are often unaware of the ways we are impacted by it. We may be more reactive, suddenly blowing up or unexpectedly breaking down. We may be more inward and self-protective.
We may engage in self-destructive behaviors, such as abusing food, drugs, or alcohol. We may withdraw from our loved ones. We may be more distrustful of, irritable toward, or less communicative with those close to us.
It's valuable to understand that it is our elevated existential dread—with the fear of loss, the unknown, and having little control in our lives—that is causing many of our emotional reactions. With this knowledge, we can be compassionate toward ourselves and kind and patient toward others during these psychologically trying times.
Isolation is hard on us. We are, by nature, social animals. Longevity studies show time and time again that a primary factor for a long, healthy life is having friends and maintaining meaningful connections with others. In addition, research has determined that seeking isolation can be a significant sign of suicidal intent and is often a central element in actual suicide.
So, in isolating ourselves to save our lives and control this pandemic, we are also at risk of endangering our mental health. Too much time alone is the breeding ground for self-destructive thoughts. It's like they say: Your mind is a bad neighborhood to go into alone.
When we are isolated, our critical inner voices have plenty of time to attack us, our partner, and our life in general. And they thrive when there is a shortage of friendly interactions to counteract them. In isolation, there is also a tendency to engage in and then rationalize unhealthy, self-destructive behaviors.
It's important for us to continue to be social even while we are self-isolating. We can make an effort to stay in contact with the central people in our lives. We can reach out to friends we haven't communicated with for a while. We can follow our friends and engage with them on social media.
My husband and I have been self-quarantined since early March. From my almost two weeks' experience, I can tell you that these challenges to psychological health are real. I am typically a calm, non-reactive person, but there have been times that I am so frightened that I snap at someone who seems tense to me. There have been nights when I am too anxious to fall asleep.
But I am also adjusting. I'm lucky that my husband and I are both involved in rewriting his book, The Fantasy Bond, so we have a meaningful project to share. A thoughtful friend sent us an Echo Show, so we can virtually hang out with the folks downstairs. We can go for drives in the country and walks outside in nature. And I don't think I have ever texted or emailed this much in my life.
Don't forget about your emotional self during this strange and trying time. Paying attention to the conditions that may be having a negative impact on how you are feeling will help you and your loved ones get through this together, with love and compassion.