Coping with unwanted emotions during the pandemic
Hello, it’s Dr. M here from @thepsychologistandme on Instagram. I’m a London based Clinical Psychologist here to offer a refreshing take on mental health education and provide some hot tips for living through a pandemic. In this blog, I discuss the impact the pandemic has had on our mental health and some tips for getting through it.
For almost a year, we have commemorated the pandemic within the confines of our homes. Permanent Ground Hog Day. Working from home now feels like sleeping at work. There is too much to do and not enough time. Not enough support. Not enough variety. Not enough relief.
On weekends, we might treat ourselves to take away and listen to the Flu Fighters or No Kids on The Block. Tonight with Mary J, we may get it crunk, we gonna have fun up on this in our pee-jam-mies. No, not the work at home PJs. The real PJs. Because tonight only the garbage is going out.
We were promised a light at the end of the tunnel in 2021. And here we are. No better. No end in sight. And messages asking us to be grateful (although important & we do have much to be grateful for) feel insufficient and now slightly irritating.
The sadness, grief, & frustration are building. And rightfully so. This year has been hard (read: SH!T) and this pandemic is not going away anytime soon. You may wonder how you will find the strength to trudge along in this never ending sh!tstorm.
Soon, if not already, you may notice heavy thoughts appearing like “I can’t take it” and “I can’t do this anymore.” And Taylor Swift quickly swoops in to warn your mind, “uh oh, uh oh, uh oh, uh ohhhh, you’re being too loud, you need to calm down.” As if that ever worked.
“Don’t look back in anger,” I overheard Oasis say. Taylor added, “we’re headed for trouble trouble trouble, you need to just stop (can you just stop)?” Insert overwhelm here. If you’re feeling sh!t, you’re not alone. It’s ok to feel sh!t, because this is sh!t. This year is a recipe for anxiety and depression, for drink and drugs, and other unwanted things.
Well, there’s this thing called experiential avoidance, which is a key component to human suffering. Experiential avoidance is avoiding unwanted things (such as, thoughts, memories, people, experiences, emotions). By avoiding the ‘trigger,’ we get short term relief. And because it gives us relief, it is repeated. It becomes a habit.
Over time, we may get in the habit of ignoring it. Instead, we may spend it, drink it, smoke it, hide it, eat it. Try to write it out. Try to exercise it out. Try to fight it out. Fights with everybody in our orbit, including ourselves. Shutting down and retreating to our own little mental realm.
Sometimes we might not be fully aware of it or what it is. We become unwilling to feel uncomfortable in the moment. So, we push that ‘stuff’ away, ignore it, pretend it’s not there. And this can lead to difficulties later, because our minds think ‘it’ is a big overwhelmingly scary or painful thing that is better ignored. And the cycle repeats again. It festers. It takes more to block yourself from feeling ‘it.’
By doing this, we realize that the thing we fear is not so scary, those emotions aren’t so intense, and what we have been doing to avoid experiencing them is a huge energy suck. It feels more liberating and less intense to let these things pass through us. Come and go.
Instead “Let it Be,” said the Beetles. And allow yourself to fully embrace the undertow of the unwanted, which has been building for months. Sit with it and really listen to it, just like you would listen to a heartbroken friend. Pay attention. See where it takes you. Release this flood gate before the proverbial dam breaks. Before this experience breaks you.
You might feel a bit emotional exhale. Tears of relief without the usual work up. A release. See, crying is really is an exercise of acceptance. It’s cathartic. It’s an emotional bridge that we sometimes need to cross to get where we want to be. Accept it.
Release some of this pain to make room for being. There is so much to grieve from this pandemic. Loss of life, lives, livelihood. Loss of celebration, connection, certainty, and comfort. We have a right to be totally fed up. But we won’t get anywhere if we cannot somewhat accept this sh!t.
Sam Smith says, “darling stay with me (and those unwanted feelings) cuz they’re all you need.” So, find a quiet moment away from your own judgement. Draw a warm bath. And melt.
And if crying burns calories, watch out 2021, cuz we are going to crush those fitness goals. Taylor says,”Ohhhh, look what you made me do.” Beyonce, “I’m a survivor I’m gonna make it, Imma survive and keep on surviving.”
And now you’ll be singing and crying and smiling at the same time. #sorrynotsorry
Take care and look after yourself!
Check out my page on Instagram for more fun and educational mental health content.
As always, if you need urgent mental health assistance please dial “999” or go to your nearest A&E. If you’d like to speak with someone about your mental health call your GP and ring the Samaritans 116 123.