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  • Matt McCoy

Validating the Emotional Impact of COVID-19 Lockdown

Millions of people around the world are experiencing some form of societal “lockdown” or “quarantine” to flatten the curve of COVID-19. The scale of this lockdown is unprecedented in our lifetime and it is unknown exactly how it will affect our mental health in the long run. From my own personal and professional experience, however, I can say that common themes in regards to people’s emotional experiences are presenting themselves.

Feeling up and down and everything in between

What I've heard from many people is that they are feeling a wide range of emotions. One day people are feeling motivated and energized and the very next day they are feeling overwhelmed and blue. This is a common experience being shared and some folks are attributing it to having to live in such a prolonged state of uncertainty, stress, or experiencing loss. Some people have been comparing their emotional experience to grief, as intense feelings arise unexpectedly and in waves.

Feeling downright exhausted is another common theme. People are tired of feeling anxious when going out and they are tired of non-stop parenting, homeschooling, and trying to work from home. Many of the things we used to do to fill our emotional tanks are unavailable to us right now, such as going to the gym or meeting up with friends. What seems to be important to many, is allowing themselves to recognize that these are new and difficult times, and that it is reasonable to feel exhausted. It seems reasonable, to say the least, to have many different feelings about the current situation.

Having strong feelings - validate them!

It may be tempting to downplay the effects of the current lockdown, saying it is not so bad or comparing it to other crises. While it is true that many aspects of the lockdown are not so bad, and most people will come out of lockdown relatively unscathed, it is still good practice to validate the struggles of our current reality.

How can we validate our experience? One way is by externalizing our feelings and thoughts, making them exist outside of our own minds. Saying how we feel aloud - to ourselves or somebody else can be a good first step. Expressing ourselves creatively, through art, song, or writing is another powerful way of doing this. We can also learn how to be mindful within ourselves. By recognizing when we are having difficult feelings, pausing, taking a few deep breaths and acknowledging the feeling, we may experience relief by simply honouring our experience.

During this time it is important to validate others' experiences as well. When other people tell us that they are struggling, most of the time they want to be heard rather than "fixed." We can validate others by listening and being there for them.

When it's time to ask for help

Some people may notice over time that their negative feelings are sticking around. They might notice troubling thoughts, persistent "moods", or behaviours that are distracting, or even harmful, such as: difficulty engaging in every day activities, feeling "down" more often than not, increased substance misuse, or relationship conflict. For people with any previous mental health diagnosis, they may experience a flare up of symptoms during this time. If these kinds of emotions and behaviours continue for many days or weeks, it may be time to reach out for help.

People can start by talking to a trusted friend. That friend might know of a good counsellor or someone else who may be able to help. British Columbians can consider accessing provincial virtual mental health supports and self-assessment tools as a starting point. If people want to find a professional on their own, consider using an online search engine such as Psychology Today to find qualified mental health clinicians. Most clinicians are offering their services remotely and some may even be offering reduced rates during the pandemic, especially for essential workers.

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