For many of us, the pandemic has triggered a tornado of emotions. And we can’t rely on our usual self-care practices to pull us through, which can make us feel even more overwhelmed and disoriented.
The pandemic can lead past traumas to resurface. Some of Amber Petrozziello’s clients have been reminded of being unable to leave their homes while struggling with debilitating depression. Another client reported feeling similar feelings today—isolated, trapped, and disconnected from others—as they felt during several stressful inpatient treatments.
All of us are also “experiencing a collective trauma and grief,” said Petrozziello, MHC-LP, who practices at Empower your Mind Therapy in New York City. We might be grieving the loss of individuals who’ve passed away and grieving for individuals who’ve had to work during this time, she said. We might be grieving the loss of our old routines and comforting activities.
“Everything is changing…and there is plenty of uncertainty and fear in the air,” which creates “a sense of despair and helplessness,” Petrozziello said.
Consequently, the pandemic can stir up emotions of “depersonalization, derealization, and dissociation.”
Plus, the pandemic can spark contradictory feelings. These can be feelings of shock, fear, guilt, anger, blame, and sadness—and feelings of happiness, hope, and gratitude, said Laura Torres, LPC, a psychotherapist in private practice in Asheville, N.C.
So, how do you feel all these feelings? And how do you do it without actually falling apart and still focusing on your slew of responsibilities—which might include working, parenting 24/7, helping your kids with school, and/or maintaining a household.
According to both Petrozziello and Torres, the key is to carve out a bit of time every day to explore, acknowledge, and experience your emotions. If it helps, you can even set a timer for 5, 10, or 20 minutes—depending on how much time you have. Here’s how to healthfully feel your feelings:
- Start by closing your eyes and taking several deep breaths.
- Scan your body, and name the physical sensations you’re experiencing, such as “I feel tension in my shoulders.”
- Say “I am having a thought that…” or “I am feeling…,” said Petrozziello, which provides some distance from your experiences and stops you from getting deeply entangled with them. She also suggested journaling your thoughts and feelings, if you have time.
- Think of loving your thoughts and emotions. “This means accepting them with nonjudgment, watching them come and letting them go,” Petrozziello said. Think of your thoughts and feelings as leaves floating down a stream or draw them leaving your mind, she said.
- Identify what you need. For example, Torres said, instead of focusing on work and making sure your kids stick to the schedule, you let them play in the backyard while you meditate in the grass. Or you decide to discuss your emotions with your partner, she said. Or you realize you need to make a virtual appointment with a therapist.
Listening to others’ experiences also can feel comforting. “It’s so powerful to hear someone speak your exact feelings and know that you’re not alone,” said Torres. For example, you might check out podcasts like Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us or Dani Shapiro’s The Way We Live Now.
On the other hand, it might be helpful to limit pandemic-related news and media and “invite more uplifting content into your conversations and attention,” Torres said. “Set some boundaries around what you’re letting into your emotional space.”
For example, you might ask your partner not to discuss the news with you after 7 p.m. You might listen to history or comedy podcasts and read comic books. You might keep your news consumption to 15 minutes on one website in the afternoons.
Torres has heard that many individuals are experiencing peaceful and joyful moments during this time—and then promptly feeling guilty because so many are suffering or feeling confused because they also feel afraid.
Both Torres and Petrozziello emphasized that whatever people are feeling is valid. There are no wrong feelings to feel at this time.
Also, when you feel alone or disconnected, remind yourself that you are not the only one experiencing an array of confusing, often contradictory emotions and traumas. Millions of people, yes millions, all over the world are right there with you—perhaps speaking a different language but feeling the same painful and positive emotions inside their hearts.