You’re known as a rock for family and friends, but the truth is you’re not feeling so hot yourself these days. You’re trying to be reassuring and do everything you can to keep your loved ones calm. But you are having trouble sleeping and have a pit in your stomach the size of a grapefruit. Coronavirus has you scared. It’s okay. Fear doesn’t make you weak; it makes you normal.
The scope, lethality, quick spread, and widespread impact of this virus is like nothing our generation has seen before. In the face of scary statistics, rising death tolls, and quarantines, it makes sense that we’re fearful. In large part, fear is driving efforts like social distancing, which — so far — are our best weapons against this invisible enemy. Fear helps to keep us safe.
The problem with fear that is unrelenting (meaning there’s no significant break from it) is that your body can get stuck in a state of high-alert. You may find it harder and harder to rebound and have problems letting go and relaxing. Your brain may get stuck on worries that endlessly loop, like a tape recorder stuck on play-rewind-repeat. Over time, when our nervous systems are in such a high state of tension and engagement, the unremitting fear may reveal itself as PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder.
This pandemic is terrifying so as a nation and a world, we are going to need to be honest in the months ahead about the wide-scale trauma we have experienced. We will need to get help resolving our trauma symptoms and in settling in to a new normal. In the meantime, though, we are not post-anything; we are smack dab in the middle of the traumatic event. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do now, though. Here are some suggestions for helping yourself and your family to get through this crisis.
Fear is a Fire Alarm
Fear is an important mechanism for keeping your family safe, not a sign that you’re weak or ineffectual. But fear without action can feel terrifying, like being chained to your bed while the fire alarm is going off. To counteract that feeling, respond by doing something, preferably something physical. Go on a brisk walk or run, stream an exercise class, or beat up the couch cushions.
Crisis teams, after they go in and help communities and provide disaster-relief, have de-briefings as a way of helping team members to release some of the tension they accumulate in the course of the day. It’s normal to need to vent, in other words. Vent with intention, though; carefully choose your venting partner (not your kids and maybe not your spouse), limit your venting sessions so they don’t go on to long and reinforce helplessness, and make sure that you conclude your phone call or video chat with a hopeful thought and an idea for the next active step you are each going to take.
Be aware of the signs and symptoms of stress in your body before they turn into a five-alarm fire. For example, many migraine sufferers learn to recognize signs of tension (tight shoulders or aching neck) in their bodies before they turn into a full-blown headache. Take an inventory now: where do you hold tension in your body? What are the signs and symptoms that your body is feeling the strain of ongoing fear and anxiety? If you want to learn more, consider signing up for this free online course on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction or this one on coping with anxiety from Oregon State University called, Punch Through Pandemics with Psychological Science.
Get Objective Support
The problem with venting to family and friends is that you know how stressed they are, too, and you’re going to want to do something about that. With our loved ones, we can tend to downplay how bad we’re feeling so they don’t get worried. Or we may not discuss everything that’s bothering us because we don’t want to make them feel bad, guilty, or helpless. In these cases, it can be so helpful to talk to someone neutral whose only job is to focus on your well-being, not calm the waters for everyone else. More and more counselors have moved their practices online during these tough times; check listings for your state and area here.
Being scared when something scary is happening is normal. It’s also normal — even adaptive and healthy — to seek help. The therapists at Nova Terra Therapy are available for online counseling to treat issues like anxiety, trauma, and depression. Please reach out to us at 571-386-0168 or through scheduling on our online scheduler if you would like professional support.
Other services offered by Nova Terra Therapy:
In addition to providing anxiety therapy in Virginia, Our Burke, VA counseling clinic offers a variety of counseling services to adults in Burke, Virginia and the greater Washington DC area. We specialize in providing individual therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, anxiety treatment, depression treatment, relationship counseling, trauma treatment and PTSD treatment, and EMDR. We encourage you to visit our blog for more mental health tips and information. Please contact our therapy office to learn more about how we can help with counseling in-person or online.