A year and several months into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s hard to know what to feel. We have all been through an enormous, prolonged stressor, and it’s affected everyone. It might have affected each person differently, but no one is untouched. Because everyone had different experiences with the pandemic, it makes sense that our reactions and current feelings vary widely as well. In this post, we are going to discuss some of the many feelings people experience when they are exposed to a prolonged stressor such as the pandemic.
I think we probably all feel anxiety in some way. Anxiety is our body’s alarm system. It alerts us to danger and tries to keep us safe. It makes sense then given the actual threat to our safety that COVID poses, that our body’s alarm system may be alerting us in some big or small ways. There can also be anxiety about other things. For example, when we were in full “lockdown,” things might have felt somewhat more predictable because there were clear rules. But now that restrictions have eased, or as they are constantly changing, things may feel less clear. Constant changes can make us feel unsafe.
Coined by Brene Brown, this is the term we use to describe the dress rehearsal for tragedy that we do when we’ve been through a lot, and we aren’t sure what the future holds. It’s preparing for the worst, even when things are at their best. You might have felt this when restrictions first eased back in June: An uncomfortable mix of relief, hope, and a growing pit in your stomach about what bad thing(s) might happen in the future.
Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. Adam Grant thinks this might be the dominant emotion of 2021.
Not everyone experienced this pandemic in the same way. There’s a lot to be angry about. You could also feel anger because you think public health recommendations are wrong, or because others aren’t following social distancing rules while you can’t avoid them, or because you just want your life back and you’re fed up.
We’ve lost so much. Many of us have lost friends, family members, and coworkers – and that grief has been extensively discussed in mental health blogs and articles. Ambiguous grief describes the sense of grief we feel when we’ve lost some things that are hard to describe and don’t feel as physical as the death of a person: our sense of predictability and security, a sense of community, jobs, enjoyable activities, places we used to frequent, relationships – the list goes on. We grieve these losses too.
We can experience survivor’s guilt when we experience a threat and survive it while others don’t. Survivor’s guilt is complicated. As humans we usually feel guilt when we have done something wrong. However, when we survive a trauma that others didn’t, it isn’t often because we caused it or did something. It’s often happenstance, which can leave us feeling powerless as well.
Whatever you’re feeling is normal, even if you didn’t find your exact experience on this list. One possible silver lining from the past year is a deeper connection to your own true self. For many of us, the pandemic has made us consider what we want to stand for in the face of some scary times. This is a perfect time to reflect. How has your life changed? How have your feelings changed? How have you changed? As we continue to move through this time, it’s important to remember that resilience is not about returning to your original size and shape. Rather, we can carve out some quiet time to shed behaviors or perceived obligations that no longer serve us. We can hold what is important, and give ourselves permission to change and be changed.
Lauren Ford, Psy.D., is a psychologist in The Guidance Center’s Whole Child Program, where she helps address the emotional and behavioral needs of children and families with complex medical diagnoses. She is especially passionate about creating integration of medical and mental health care for children and families who might not otherwise be able to receive this kind of care. Before joining The Guidance Center team in 2014, Dr. Ford worked with children and adolescents with cancer and blood disorders at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles as a psychology extern. Dr. Ford earned a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Pepperdine University.