Learnings about emotional care in isolation from a psychotherapist

4 min read

Last Tuesday I was preparing myself for an eventful week: planning a meeting with my partners to check the final boxes for the launch of our online platform for emotional and mental wellbeing in the workplace, planning my therapy session for next week and feeling happy that the sunny weather will allow me to enjoy some outside time with my 2-year-old.

And then the announcement came. The Coronavirus cases were growing, the situation in Italy was becoming dramatic, and the Romanian authorities were trying to prevent a situation where most of the population would have their health seriously affected. The fact that we were all supposed to stay at home for a minimum of 2 weeks with the possibility of prolongement is not easy to assimilate.

I believe that for some people it still isn’t.

In moments of uncertainty, when the news is bad, the trust in the authorities is low due to tragic past events, people feel fear. The fear that they might be quarantined or that they will not be able to leave their house reveals ancient coping behaviors: supermarkets become empty, the day to day products are hoarded and the people look at one another with suspicion. Battling a confusing enemy, one that is transmitted so easily and can be deadly to the elder and most vulnerable activates our amygdala – the part of our brain responsible for reacting to dangerous stimuli. Our hearts race, we are alert, mobilized, we are paying more attention to any news and we stay at home.

The events of the past week are not easy for anyone, and therapists are no exception. In these stressful times people are missing their most common coping behaviors: going to the gym, going out with friends, going for a walk, having coffee at your favorite place, etc. That is why our emotional health can suffer greatly.

After a week of staying home almost exclusively and working with a 2-year-old 🙂 these are the main things that can keep us sane up until the end of this:

  1. Connection is king: a few days or weeks at home with the same people (be they the dearest people to you) or alone is not enough for human connection needs. Use any technological means to maintain a relationship with friends, family, and colleagues. A lot of us are working from home and we meet our colleagues every day in online meetings, but a few social gatherings online over wine will help us ease the pressure and anxiety, to laugh and feel less isolated.
  2. This will end: maybe not in a week or two, but it will eventually end. Viktor Frankl in his book “Man’s search for meaning” said that the people who kept their sanity during detention in a concentration camp were the ones that managed to see an ending to that episode. The same with this episode, the corona crisis will go away. Scientists are working on drugs for the infection, on a vaccine and this too shall pass. Think about difficult moments in your life when you thought that what you were going through will never end. It did. This situation will pass too.
  3. Be kind to yourself (and others): it’s genuinely hard to find the rhythm when you are trying to adapt to uncertainty and to a situation this new. We are worried about our health, the health of our loved ones, about the economy, about what will happen to our projects. Worry is natural, but don’t expect to function 100% from the first get-go. I believe that we are running a marathon, not a sprint and trying, erring and then trying again is to be expected. This stands for anything: your working routine, exercising, eating well, etc. If you first don’t succeed, try try again and use this time to find the right fit for you. Keep your projects in place and work on them. Yes, it will be challenging to adapt them to stay at home mode, but there is a way. Find it. Find things that bring you meaning and keep you useful and do them.
  4. It’s time to practice setting boundaries: it’s a difficult time when ALL people in the Western world are facing the same challenges. If there’s a time to feel negative emotions this is it. Setting boundaries is about clarifying them to yourself and then communicating them. If you feel that you are flooded with messages like: “It will be ok.” or “Think positive” and you feel that you are not ok with them, communicate this: “I know that thinking positive is the best action in general but right now I feel that I need to prepare for what’s to come.” Boundaries can be applied to time and personal space, to how you spend your time and so on. Of course, you must do some things but pay attention to changes in your emotions and physical sensations and see what you need in some moments.
  5. Trust your resilience: in the past when we went through difficult situations it wasn’t that hard to imagine a way out. Because someone had already been there. Not here. No one has been through this. This is why it is so important to trust your capacity to be flexible and bounce back. Of course that no one can predict exactly what’s going to follow, but it’s ok to prepare for challenging events where agility will be indispensable.

That does not mean that panic is justified. People have the most amazing capacity to adapt, both mentally and physically. This helped us get here as a species. This situation is no exception. There is a line in a movie that says: “In the end, it will be ok. If it’s not ok, then it’s not the end.”

Take care!

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