One of the biggest crisis of the next few days, weeks, and months will be in our emotional well-being. The yet to be known health crises of the Coronovirus, the fall of the Stock Market, and the uncertainty of the political leadership in Washington are turning the lights out in public life. Stores and schools are closing, cruise ships are docking, fewer planes are flying, and sports and other entertainment venues are being cancelled. Churches, Temples, and Mosques are turning to virtual meetings which is necessary but also a great loss of gathering and sharing with others in sacred spaces.
The loss of one’s social and economic place in society —and that is the psychological condition these circumstances create— is the context in which the coping mechanisms of individuals and families can be compromised or cease working. Families already in conflict may feel closed in, financially struggling families with children, especially single parents, will become more frightened, and those already possessed by ideas of conspiracies may panic.
While the needs for economic supports are crucial and are, at least in part, being discussed and potentially addressed by the federal, state, and local governments, mental health needs are receiving little attention. Washing your hands, keeping six feet distance between yourself and others, and staying home will not help with the fear, loneliness, anger, paranoia, and alienation that will be experienced by many individuals and families.
Mental health services and facilities are not sufficient to meet the needs and will require new financial support. Although many will need these services, most will be able to draw on their own emotional and social resources to get through the this time. These resources can be depleted to the point of exhaustion with negative consequences if there is no opportunity for renewal. This is especially true of those providing support for others such as medical personnel and clergy.
Here are some things that may be helpful to keep in mind in the days ahead:
- Others are experiencing challenges similar to yours and may, at times, need your understanding. Loneliness is a special challenge as we are encouraged to disconnect from familiar gatherings and activities. A phone call, especially those you know who are alone, can be very helpful;
- As things change, your stress level changes. Trust the process of your ability to get through the immediate situation. You’ve done it before and you can do it “one more time”.
- Be kind to yourself but not at the expense of others;
- Be kind to others but not at the expense of your own integrity;
- Make a commitment to getting as much of your normal sleep as possible. This can be difficult but persevere;
- Make a commitment to eating healthy food every day;
- Make time and space for yourself and others in situations that are noisy or chaotic;
- Try to use words that are encouraging and avoid hurtful words;
- Believe a better time is coming. It is a good antidote to losing hope and, of course, it is easier said than done. Still, being aware of your attitude about yourself, others, and your circumstances and choosing half full over half empty has better results;
- Know that you and others will make mistakes. Make a habit of forgiving and seeking forgiveness;
- Consider that you rarely ever have to apologize for being patient. Sometimes getting out of a difficult situation and taking your time to feel better is a good strategy;
- Recognize that anxiety can grow from boredom, uncertainty, fear, and confusion. These are common feelings in times of stress and if unchecked can become debilitating. It can be helpful to engage in activities that reduce stress such as physical exercise, listening to or playing music, talking with a friend, meeting with a therapist or someone else you trust.
- Be creative and plan ahead about activities that can be enjoyed by the family where possible and appropriate. Playing games, reading together and discussing what has been read, baking, writing about memories and reading what is written with the family, signing up for on-line courses, and deciding to watch a particular TV show together are examples.
- Be aware of your neighbors and friends who will be experiencing their own stress. Help if you can or be willing to accept help when it is needed and offered. Major crises in history have tended to isolate rather than bind neighbors with the result of guilt or shame after the crisis past;
- Be aware of the needs of those who are homeless and don’t have access to medical services even in good times. Continue to support your charities as possible;
- Remember to support your church and church leaders;
- Know that, whatever your circumstances, you are not alone;
- Know that you, in particular, have value and are important in the human community.
Of course, these are only a few of the kinds of things that are, for the most part, in your control and can be helpful.
We also know that increased stress on individuals and families can increase rates of substance abuse, spouse abuse, child abuse, depression, and suicide. It is necessary to be proactive in anticipating problems and, as much as possible, plan ways of preventing or reducing their impact.
In addition to the challenges described here, there will be some unanticipated positive experiences, including, for example:
- Having the kinds of conversations within the family that create renewed appreciation for each other;
- Having new kinds of conversations with friends, neighbors, and colleagues that create more caring bonds;
- Observing beneficent, charitable, and sacrificial behavior in the home, neighborhood, and community;
- Finding resources for support that you never knew existed;
- Thinking about the vulnerabilities of others in ways you may have had no reason to consider before;
- Slowing down and allowing yourself to feel some level of peace;
- Finding new strengths and resources within your own self, including interest in helping others in whatever way possible.
- Discovering the satisfaction of seeing individuals and agencies working together for the benefit of all in difficult times.
There are other positive experiences will keep the lights on for many people as we make our way through the days ahead together. Virtual communities will form and create meaningful intellectual activities. Our highest aspiration is that we may come to think of ourselves differently as parts of a connected, caring, resourceful, renewed and trustworthy community.
The stress that comes from loss of work and participation in public life is real and will be experienced by most of us. The most basic task in life, including our emotional life, is surviving and the most basic need is feeling safe. All of us have this need and many will feel challenged at this level as we cope with the real circumstances ahead. The mental health toll will be mitigated by the emotional and social support made effectively available to individuals and families. There has never been a bigger need for advocacy for these resources.