There’s no need to explain to you the extent of chaos going on around us right now. Most of us are painfully aware of the ins and outs of how the coronavirus is impacting us personally and our world collectively. So today, we won’t get into that.
Instead, let’s talk about understanding what is going on inside of you as you try to understand the complexities of our external world. Understanding what’s happening in our bodies physically, mentally and emotionally is important for a couple of reasons:
- It helps us recognize and learn new ways to process, calm and cope.
- It shows us what others are experiencing and helps us find empathy for ourselves and each other.
- It allows us to graciously find practical ways to organize our days and weeks in the midst of this pandemic.
So if these three things sound beneficial to you today, read along.
Our Equilibrium is Off
Our bodies operate best at a base level of equilibrium. When our needs are met, we are healthy and function well! A guy named Abraham Maslow had an idea that we have a hierarchy of needs (basic needs like food, water and shelter, followed by needs for safety, then belonging, accomplishment and eventually fulfillment).
What’s happening in our world right now is many of us feel that our most basic needs are being threatened. Our access to groceries and normal amenities is limited. We cannot get some of the things we need (shout out to the toilet paper manufacturers). Our physical health is at risk as the virus lingers. The professional status and economic opportunity of many are diminished. We are separated from relationships and community. Yet many of us are confused as to why we cannot accomplish more or use our time more effectively.
If you look at the pyramid, this makes total sense. When our basic needs have not been met, we cannot move up the pyramid to other categories of health. In other words, when we do not have a felt safety that we will get what we need, are able to meet the needs of those in our care and are protected from physical harm- then it makes sense that we’re not accomplishing more, expressing creativity and living to our full potential.
Your Nervous System is Probably Freaking Out
When our equilibrium is off, it triggers a subconscious biological response inside of us. You may not even necessarily feel stressed. But the body processes what our mind and heart does not. So what’s going on inside of you?
When the body is processing stress, it launches into what we know as “fight or flight” mode, or survival mode. This happens when there is some sort of threat (aka the coronavirus) to those needs we talked about earlier. What’s happening here is that your sympathetic nervous system starts to release hormones that cause different things to happen in our body. This can look different based on the person. Some common experiences are feeling restless or anxious, heart racing, digestive issues like constipation or diarrhea, difficulty sleeping, irritability, food cravings or loss of appetite. Sometimes these responses are subtle, and you don’t even notice them in the midst of the distraction of the threat. This is a good thing our body does, and it serves an obvious purpose. But the problem is while this process is only supposed to be a short-term response, the coronavirus is not going away.
As new stressors are introduced (unemployment, continued isolation, school cancellations, life events changed, home-bound challenges) our bodies remain in this heightened state. This continuous activation can exhaust us and wear us down.
Your nervous system is probably freaking out. Do you feel that? For me, I started to notice that even though I was getting in bed earlier I was more exhausted. I am having weird dreams at night and feel like I need to lie down around 2pm every day. I also feel lonely, but at the same time finding ways to connect with others feels overwhelming. My digestion is completely out of whack, and I’m craving foods I’d wouldn’t eat typically. To be honest, I’m just writing this blog because I’ve been experiencing these very things myself. I just didn’t have it in me to put the words to paper.
What I’m trying to say is my body is trying to tell me something. And that is very normal. Yours might be too.
We Are All Reprocessing Our World As We Know It
As if all we’ve discussed already is not enough, our mind and emotions are running a marathon too. Everything about this season is new, for everyone. It is unlikely that you (or anyone you know) have experienced a global pandemic that causes unprecedented worldwide action. We are bombarded with new and changing information daily, if not hourly. Our mind has to process every new piece and change. Practically speaking, it’s just a lot to take in. Then dump your emotions about any given variable on top.
Our world as we know it is different right now. This means we are all doing the hard mental and emotional work of adapting, grieving and accepting our current reality. And I mean what I said- it’s hard work. It takes mental and emotional energy to just get groceries into your home. So it makes sense that you’re spent by 2:00pm (if not earlier).
So, What Does All of this Mean?
Our next blog post holds practical tools for coping in the moment and long term next week. But for now, I hope this information increases your empathy.
Maybe you don’t have perfect perspective, feel filled with gratitude, experience heightened productivity, use all your free time well, find relief from your anxiety or solve all your coronavirus problems right now.
But I hope understanding the many different dynamics at play increases your empathy for yourself and for other people. When you feel anxious, defeated, offended, unproductive, trapped, frustrated, out of whack or just physically unwell- take a step back and remember that this is objectively overwhelming to our body, mind and emotions. (Whether you process that fully or not). So grieve things not being as they should be. Empathize with yourself and others. And we will get a little better at this new reality every day.
For more information and a follow up blog on how to respond to this information, stay tuned or sign up to receive new blogs through our weekly emails. If you want a space set aside to process and work through your personal experiences during COVID-19, then good news! We’re offering video or telephone counseling sessions for 30 or 50 minute increments. Give us a call at 225-341-4147 to set up an appointment.