“There is little doubt that the current pandemic has had a major impact on most of our society,” explains Dr. William Brock, a clinical psychologist at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “In addition to the illness and the death toll, we are affected by the loss of work, stay-at-home order, disruption to our daily lives, worry about loved ones and others, and mental health consequences of all these stressors. Although people’s reactions differ, many are suffering emotional effects such as anxiety, depression, frustration and loneliness.”
Dr. Brock recently answered some questions about coping with feelings of guilt that may arise from societal pressure to “do more” with our extra time during the pandemic.
Why might people feel pressured to be more productive during quarantine?
We live in a culture that tends to be very achievement-oriented, and a disruption of this magnitude affects many aspects of our lives, including sleep, nutrition, physical activity, socialization and feelings of accomplishment. Our “media diet” has a profound influence on our thoughts and feelings. Seeing articles or posts on social media about making the most of extra time may create a perception that we should be focused and productive despite the stressful events around us.
It is quite human to feel unmotivated and guilty during times of stress. When we notice those kinds of feelings, it is helpful to pause and consider how we would want to respond in stressful situations. What are we thinking that causes these feelings? And how can we shift our perspective to move toward more helpful feelings?
For example, if you are feeling anxiety, you can examine your own thinking to see where this feeling arises. Are you agitated by the news? Concerned about family members? Disrupted in your work? Stressed out over finances? These are all very real concerns. It may be a good idea to recognize that when you’re stressed, you need to take time to calm yourself and recoup.
By taking that pause, you can start to consider which thoughts are not helpful and what is in your control. If the media is activating your anxiety, you may want to change your viewing habits. If you are catastrophizing or excessively worrying about family, try to focus on supporting family members and modeling a calm response to the situation. The things that you can manage effectively are your thoughts and reactions to events.
How can practicing self-compassion help us cope with feelings of guilt or anxiety?
Self-compassion means being caring and understanding toward ourselves when we are under stress or suffering. Self-compassion is the alternative to self-criticism or ruminating on our own perceived failures. Think about how you would treat a close friend or loved one if they came to you with a major problem. Can you treat yourself with the same positive support?
Treating ourselves with kindness and understanding allows us to experience negative feelings rather than trying to ignore or avoid them. When difficult emotions are avoided, we lose the opportunity to learn from them and manage our emotions more effectively.
How can we cope with our feelings of guilt and anxiety?
Under stress, it is often a good idea to take a timeout. That can mean anything from a few moments to several days. During that pause, you will have time to consider how you want to respond rather than simply reacting. Here are some strategies to help if you are struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic:
- When stressed, bring yourself back to the present moment. Worry is the result of too many “what ifs.” Stop traveling into a future scenario and consider what you can do now.
- Notice how you are feeling. Those feelings aren’t necessarily good or bad. They give us information about how we are responding to a situation.
- Be extra gentle with yourself. Self-care is important, particularly when we are feeling stressed. Show yourself true compassion.
- Forgive yourself. We are fallible human beings and we all make mistakes. If you weren’t as productive as you want to be, accept that fact and determine how to behave differently in the future.
- Check your values. By pausing, you have time to consider how you want to respond to a situation. Is it more important to be unmotivated or to take a small step toward doing what you want to do?
- Accept that some anxiety is normal when we are stressed. Know that it is not necessarily a bad thing; a certain amount of anxiety can motivate us to take action or be a warning sign to slow down.
- Establish or maintain a consistent routine, especially in the morning. You may need to make some adjustments to your old schedule, but a daily routine provides stability and allows us to set our intentions for the day.
- Be creative about maintaining social contact. We all benefit from a certain amount of social contact. It may be challenging, but use your phone or other technologies to stay in touch with people you care about.
- Establish a mindful meditation practice. Meditation can be a valuable practice to deal with distractions, complexities and stress by improving our ability to pay attention and regulate our emotions. You may also notice it helps with most of the items on this list.