Being in the middle of this pandemic or COVID-19 (couldn’t they have come up with a catchier name?) is starting to wear on us all emotionally. Even if we don’t quite realise it. The big extension until 1 June didn’t help. I’m guessing you’re feeling a bit like I do: depressed, panicked and a bit fearful. But I don’t think we can let it win. We need to acknowledge whatever negative feelings, and then fight like hell against them. Here are my thoughts – and how I’m fighting to stay positive.
Sleep — or lack of
The clock reads 3.47am. Again. For what feels like the gazillionth night, I am wide awake. It’s not like insomnia of days of old when I was worried or panicked about something in particular. Rather, it’s just I can’t sleep anymore. My new routine is lay awake all night; manage the day pretty well; take a 20-minute power nap at 4pm; push through dinner and the kids’ bedtime; try to watch Netflix; fall asleep on the couch at 9pm; wake up at midnight; climb straight into bed; and wait to fall asleep at 4am. It’s like jet lag without the fun of getting it. My nine-year-old son can’t sleep either. It makes me so very sad when he peeks his head into the family room at 10pm (waking me up on the couch for a brief few minutes).
And when I went to the grocery store last week, I found myself in a mini-panic. It happened in the canned tomato aisle. Or what used to be the canned tomato aisle. There were no canned tomatoes. And no flour or sugar a couple of aisles over. I wanted to make my husband a cake for our 20th wedding anniversary, but I couldn’t find anything I needed. I settled for a frozen cheesecake. Lucky, I guess. It was far less work and tasted okay.
But that panic — that panic was unexpected. That’s just not me. I’m a glass half-full kind of gal. My eyes peeping above my mask started to well with tears. I found myself breathing a bit faster and I had to work to slow it down, to not let the panic seep in. I found myself wondering yet again if I was living in the early scenes of one of those end-of-the-earth movies we’ve all watched. Did the horror start with a few news stories on the radio that became wall-to-wall news and then silence? Will this end in a few weeks or just get worse? Is this what happened before The Hunger Games or The Walking Dead? All those shows always seem to feature presidents not listening to scientists, don’t they? As an American, that feels a little too familiar just now.
And again, I had to fight to keep that panic at bay. “It is not going to win. I am not going to give into this.”
Undercurrent of concern
But the point it, this whole pandemic is getting to me in ways I don’t quite realize and it’s probably getting to you, too. On the surface, I feel okay. My kids are doing their best to soldier through eLearning. I’m so very proud of how hard they’re trying, though I see it getting to them, too — some days more than others. Me? I’m busy working on stories for Expat Living. I have lots of teleconferences with friends — even friends I haven’t seen in a long time, which is super nice. Life is pretty good, actually. I even started a website of nothing but good news and resources just so I would make myself create a daily gratitude list for all that is still good in the world.
But just the same, the coronavirus is wearing us all down whether we realise it or not — and I’m not alone. It seems lots of people are in my boat, depressed and panicked both here and across the globe. A mattress company in the US called SleepStandards did a survey and found that about three quarters of those surveyed said they aren’t sleeping well.
That’s not good news. Why? Because chronic insomnia can lead to all sorts of health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even Alzheimer’s. Equally bad? It can leave you open to getting COVID-19. All the more reason to get a grip on this before the panic gets a grip on you.
Getting better sleep
Donn Posner, a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and a founding member of the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine, gave the Harvard Business Review a few steps to fight the panic and help get your sleep back into a rhythm.
- Don’t take naps
- Don’t try to sleep in after a bad night’s sleep
- Do spend time in the sun during the day
- Avoid nicotine and caffeine
- Get plenty of exercise
- If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something
Great. So now you can get to sleep, but even if you do sleep, you might not sleep well. Are you dreaming like a crazy person? That apparently is pretty common just now, too. In fact, Google searches for “Why am I having weird dreams lately?” have quadrupled in the US.
Research shows that stress during the day affects what you dream about at night. Asleep, your mind goes where it dare not during the day sometimes exploring things that frighten and panic you.
“COVID throws up many questions,” Anjhula Mya Sigh Bais, a psychologist, told the Huffington Post. “Your dreams are playing out survival scenarios in a bid to maintain hope, preparedness and stability.
Truly, psychologists are having field days helping you explain your wildest dreams. But dreams are good. They help us work out what we cannot during the day. Our minds are taking care of us. Embrace it.
But what about that feeling of unease during the day? That folks, is grief. I remember this feeling after 9/11 when I lived in New York. The whole city walked around in a bit of disbelief, longing for life to return to normal. I’m guessing this is how people feel during war, too. And while we weren’t attacked by a typical enemy, it feels the same. COVID-19 truly is an enemy.
It’s normal to feel this way. It’s normal for the days to blend together. And it’s normal to feel blue. Life as we know it has stopped and it may never quite return.
It’s normal … but these feeling don’t have to take over.
So what can we do about it? Well, for starters, you can’t give in. You just can’t. Feeling panicky and being enveloped in grief actually lowers your immune system. This means we need to be kind to ourselves. Accept that you’re hurting even if you don’t quite realise it. Don’t pressure yourself to write the next great novel or solve world peace. Breathe. Look for the positives. Realise you aren’t going to be a perfect parent during all this. Are your kids safe? Healthy? Fed? Then you’re smashing it as a parent.
And then think ahead to what you want life to be like again. Plan for that day. Dream about it. Hang onto the knowledge that things won’t stay like this forever. There is a lot of good in the here and now, too. Search it out. And mostly, just be grateful that you now realise just how good life was – and will be again.
Remember, this too shall pass.
For more tips on how to fight the panic, read our top five tips on how to stay healthy.