Be - Careful - With - Yourselves - Right - Now
Updated: May 23, 2020
By Heidi Kamm. Ph.D. (Psychologist)
“Be careful with yourselves right now, friends. Daily stressors can amplify any pre-existing depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disordered behaviors, substance abuse, etc. and this stressor is a big one. Don’t be surprised if old maladaptive patterns start to rear their heads. Be ready for it. Action is the antidote to anxiety. What can you do? Talk to family and friends now about co-oping childcare/school, buy a few extra cans of food or dry goods, etc. If you can’t prepare or stock up, do something else. Clean your house. Call a family member. Check on the older people in your lives and help them if they need it. Run errands for your buddies with suppressed immune systems. Go for a walk. Meditate. Most fear is the unknown, so finish the sentence: “I’m afraid of...” The ellipse is the anxiety, so follow it through, write it down, talk it out. If we end up self-quarantining, what can you do then? Declutter closets? Sort books? File papers? Organize pictures? Back up computers? Be ready with a list of ideas that help you feel productive. We’re here for each other. We can get through this.”
I wrote those words in a hurry on Thursday morning, March the 12th, before ducking in with my first client of the day. It’s now been 10 days since I wrote them, and in that period of time our known world has constricted into a tightly bound knot of seclusion. My last day of work was Friday morning, the 13th. Since Saturday we’ve been sheltered at home, along with most everyone else we know. I still believe what I wrote – we DO need to take action and be productive to avoid becoming paralyzed by fear. But I’m finding in my own life that I’m unable to do much more than breathe at times. The shock is just so much to absorb. I’m reminded of how I felt after my younger brother died suddenly. I couldn’t think properly. I couldn’t focus. I found myself sitting for hours, my mind zoned out. This time my mind is moving a million miles an hour – what if? What then? How?
This shock – the one we’re all collectively feeling all over the globe – is massive. It is having a real and traumatic effect on our brains, and understandably so. We have been catapulted out of the relative predictability of the past 100 years into a cataclysm of unknowns. We need to gradually feel our way through this and recognize that sometimes we’ll have to shift strategies. Sometimes sitting with the fear will be needed, as these past 10 days have shown me. We just can’t stay in that place of fear.
Cycling between emotion and activity makes sense. So be gentle with yourself. Let yourself veg out or binge-watch something, but then try to get outside if you can. Go for a walk, get the sun on your skin, plant flowers, help someone if you can. And please, if at all possible - write down what you’re experiencing, we are living through something historic, and what an amazing firsthand historical account to leave for future generations.
We can’t predict what will happen next, or how we will respond. We can’t predict which forms of coping will be best, but we should think about coping. Coping will help so much more than reacting. Please keep trying. Be careful with yourselves, and stay safe.