As discussed previously, both in terms of self-love in its most basic form, as well as using these strange circumstances as a rare opportunity for self-discovery, the unprecedented times we are living through also mean unprecedented emotional and psychological impacts – and these can be both positive and negative.
My article on “selfish isolation” explored how we can drive some good from this downtime – from surges in creativity to the rare chance to spend time alone in self-reflection.
But I don’t wish to pretend it’s all a rosy picture of indulgences and painting sessions. For many, these times are extremely challenging – not only in terms of health anxiety, financial and employment uncertainty, but many of us are being affected by the constant worry in the back of our mind in some peculiar ways. Some of which – you may not have even realised were due to this suppressed trauma response activated from the crisis.
So in the hope of all feeling a little less alone and like we are losing our sanity in all this, here’s a rundown of some psychological and physical reactions you may now be experiencing and why:
5 Types of Covid-19 Psychological Responses
1. Irrational sense of urgency
If you seem to be constantly on edge these days, always with a seemingly urgent task at the front of your mind – whether it’s to do your laundry, tidy your room, or answer that text message – there may be a logical reason behind your sudden haste to carry out tasks that in reality – can probably wait. Are you suddenly feeling compelled to alphabetise your bookshelf? Or wake up at 5am and feel some great hurry to make an inventory of your kitchen cupboards?
Your body can sense that there is some sort of emergency and naturally kicks into overdrive. But since most of us can do little more than wait out the crisis at home, many of us obsess over trivial tasks in order to satisfy this urge to take action.
2. You can’t sit still
Similarly, any anxious compulsions you have only intensify. And bonus points if you can barely sit still, constantly twitch your restless legs or pace around your room. The cause behind this sudden bout of jitters – unless you are also struggling to put the coffee down – could be down to this fight-or-flight mechanism.
Your body reads your lingering stress over the situation as indication that a predator is about to pounce, or a fight is about to commence – and prepares accordingly. Although cortisol may have its uses in extreme situations when you truly need to jolt into action, when this hormone spikes too often it can have damaging effects. After all, you can’t just fight the headlines away or run and hide from the reality you are facing – so the nervous energy you build up remains unused. And your body is beating you up about it. Screaming at you. It means well, of course, it thinks you are facing imminent death while all you can do is pace around your apartment…
3. All-Consuming Apathy
On the other hand, an overwhelming feeling of helplessness paired with a lack of hope and motivation, is also a very normal response to what’s been going on. As I described in my earlier article on compassion fatigue, checking the never-ending catastrophising news cycle, or ruminating over the what-ifs and worries that your brain naturally bounces around due to the pandemic, can leave you feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. You may hit an emotional wall, where you feel you have no more energy for all the negativity. And so, you either block it out or break under the pressure. As such, as a defense mechanism, many of us simply blinker ourselves to the gravity of a situation we are struggling to emotionally process, as looking at it head-on is so difficult.
This may manifest in the form of extended feelings of lethargy, apathy, and a nihilistic “who cares – everything is broken” take on the world. This teenage-like dismissal of your own emotions may feel empowering at the time, but this is simply an unhealthy denial of what is going on which will catch up to you eventually. It would be more productive to acknowledge the facts, take note of your fears, and then work constructively to make the best out of your situation. Look at how you can help both yourself and others from within your limited capacity, and what the most productive use of your time may be – even if that may be meditating, sleeping, or calling a friend for a catch-up!
4. Sleeping more
If you are one of the many who are struggling to stay up past 9pm these days and find yourself craving the cozy haven of your bed throughout the day – you are not alone! As touched upon, this drowsiness and almost uncontrollable urge to lounge your quarantine days away is quite possibly also a trauma response. Once your body figures out that you can’t fight or flee, the third option is essentially to play dead. You go into a state of energy-conserving hibernation.
In this case, since the “predator” your body is trying to protect you from is not so easy to visualise – let alone to fight or run away from, our bodies simply self-tranquilise and shut down. So don’t feel guilty for crawling back into bed at strange hours – it’s your body’s desperate act of self-preservation – and we could all do with some more sleep anyway!
How to manage your biological reactions to the Covid-19 crisis
Granted, it’s easier said than done to “get past” your anxiety, or to “not let things get to you,” as many of us are advising each other right now.
In order to truly get through this and remain emotionally sound, we must acknowledge that these are worrying times, but with an emphasis on the good that the world is showing to tackle it. We must focus on the positive things that we can do in the meantime – either for others or simply for yourself.
If your body needs more sleep, then this is the least you can do after the stress you are inflicting upon it. If you find yourself making more trips to the fridge than usual then be kind to yourself – your body may also be craving more calories as it expects a disaster is looming and is trying to make you conserve energy. And if you quite simply need some time to do nothing – and not feel guilty about it – then please do yourself a favour!
Some people fill their days with small tasks and goals to get through each hour and feel a sense of purpose and routine. Others can barely get dressed or respond to their text messages, as they are consumed with a sense of mental and physical exhaustion and a lack of enthusiasm in just about anything. Both of these reactions – and anything in between – are totally normal!
Ultimately, we all process stress differently, and we are all facing slightly different challenges during this time. The best thing you can do right now is to listen to your body and figure out what it really needs. And to give yourself a break if you find yourself too self-critical at the moment.
Brighter times lie ahead, darlings! Just think of how we will see everything with a new sense of appreciation when this is all over, and take each day at a time.