Coronavirus pandemic is not only about a medical problem – it is also about a completely new way of living our lives, a way we haven’t been used to or prepared for, full of mental and emotional challenges. Amalia Ancuta, private psychotherapist living in UK, talks in an interview for Special Stories about a few of them – from fear and depression that we can face these days, and how we can manage the situations, to the way we manage our relations with our partners and children during this period.
What does it mean, for us, this change, from an active way of living to isolation? How does this „mark” us, emotionally speaking?
With the sudden disruption of our routines and the new rules regarding social distancing and self-isolation, life as we knew has changed in a matter of weeks. The fast-paced life paused and we have to get used to slow down and adapt to a new way of living and being, with ourselves and our family members. The range of our choices has been reduced significantly.
These changes can bring to surface different emotions, thoughts, memories and reactions. This might make many people feel uncomfortable. Many people will feel anxious and stressed. Some people will find this very challenging, as they are not comfortable with expressing their feelings or they might not have the right support network in place to help them cope with the complicated feelings and overwhelm.
Are there certain socio-professional categories that feel deeper the social and emotional shock?
Yes, in my opinion, the front line workers, especially the ones in the healthcare system are the ones being most affected, emotionally, by this crisis.
Prof Wendy Burn, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, explained that: “The long-term mental health impacts of this unprecedented pandemic – on the health and social care workforce, on the healthy population, on people with existing mental illness and other vulnerable groups – are not yet fully known but they may be equally unprecedented.”
In the UK, the National Health System has launched a mental health hotline for the NHS staff. They can call or text a free number staffed by thousands of specially trained volunteers, to receive psychological support and advice for the pressures they face every day during the global health emergency.
Is it normal for us to be afraid? How do we learn to controll this or live with this feeling?
Yes, it is normal. It is the fear of the unknown. The fear that our loved ones could become very ill and even die. The fear of being infected or infecting someone else. The fear that we might not cope with the challenges of our life in lockdown or/and after restrictions will be lifted.
It is a fear related to uncertainty regarding this ongoing pandemic. Uncertainty is one of the biggest psychological challenges that individuals, families, couples face during this crisis.
We can try to overcome our fear by:
Getting our information from reliable sources. Misinformation will only make us worry more.
Avoid spending too much time watching the news or reading about the situation, as it is shown to increase our anxiety levels. Looking after our health and wellbeing and trying to stay active as much as we can. Reaching out to our families and friends and creating a support network. We will realize that we are not the only ones who are afraid and this always helps: knowing that you are not alone in this.
Are we prone to depression during this period? What symptoms can occur and how do we counteract them?
Yes, some people are. As Dr. Robert Leah, a leading psychiatrist at a medical centre in New York said: “This is the perfect storm for depression and anxiety”.
Self isolation and social distancing can make people feel very lonely. People can find themselves feeling hopeless and helpless and ultimately depressed. Symptoms include a persistent sad, anxious mood, irritability and feelings of guilt and pessimism. It affects how you feel, think and handle daily activities such as sleeping, eating and working.
At this time when we all feel slightly powerless we should focus on the things that are in our control. Create a new routine. Create rituals that bring fun to your days. For example game nights with family members. This could also be done online (via Zoom, Skype,…) with friends and family members. Make a list of activities you can engage in. You can still go outside to exercise or for a walk, or go online to find an exercise or yoga video. Read the books and watch the movies you have been meaning to. It is important to find those activities that work best for us, for our wellbeing.
How can we “replace” the lack of physical contact with others during the period of social distance – especially for those used to a lot of socialization, gestures of affection? What kind of activities are recommended during this period to help us find a certain state of wellbeing?
We can’t go out and meet our friends, colleagues and family members, but we can keep in touch with them by using social media platforms or talking to them over the phone. Over the last few weeks people have found creative ways of socializing without leaving the house. They have online parties, meals; children have playdates with their friends. In this global crisis we are very lucky to be able to have such an easy access to internet and communicating platforms.
How important is the support we offer for the others during this period and how should we act?
Our help might be essential for many people around us, as long as we feel we can offer our help. People who live alone, vulnerable people and elderly are the ones who would benefit most from our help.
They might only need someone to talk to and we can offer that help by ringing them or video calling them. We can find out if they need us to deliver any shopping or medicine. And most importantly we can let them know, that we are there for them if they need to reach out for help or support.
How do we manage relationships with children during this period?
I would like to start by telling parents to remember that these are extraordinary circumstances and that you are doing your best to offer your children what they need. As a parent I know how challenging these past few weeks have been. Be kind to yourself and take each day at a time. Some will be harder and some easier. Lower your expectations towards yourself and your children’s behaviour. Try to find a balance that works for your family so you can stay sane and stay safe. Reach out to a listening partner with whom you can talk when you feel overwhelmed.
Setting and sticking to a regular schedule is very important. Consistency and structure are calming during times of stress. Children, especially younger ones or those who are anxious, benefit from knowing what is going to happen and when.
Many children may be worried as they have heard things about the pandemic but they don’t fully understand what is happening. Provide them with opportunities to talk about their worries and offer them age appropriate explanations. Avoid exposing them to news and social media that has the potential to increase anxiety levels.
Our children are little heroes who have given up so much during this crisis. They miss their friends and teachers, they miss playing in the parks and at the playgrounds and they miss their grandparents or other family members. Remembering all of this will helps us stay calm and understand the reasons behind our children’s tantrums, meltdowns and anger outbursts.
One of the advantages of spending so much time in the house is that we can find more opportunities for one to one time with our children. It makes them feel loved and secure.
We have more time to sit down on the carpet and play with our younger children, to read books together, to have some fun cooking sessions, to talk about things they like (sports, music, celebrities, friends) especially with our teenagers. Find fun activities to do together. Laughter releases fear and lowers stored tension and helps us and our children stay calm.
Could this be a time for partners to discover or rediscover themselves, from certain points of view, spending more time together? What can be good and what can be harmful for the couple relation in this context?
Experts in couples therapy from The Gottman Institute talk about how relationships are going through a testing period right now.
The majority of couples are “confined in their homes, some with children, some stressed with working from home trying to balance personal space and togetherness and trying to make sure they are financially safe. Pre-existing conflict can be magnified now. And differences in personalities and past experiences play a huge role in how each partner chooses to cope with this crisis. Some couples struggle because one partner’s worry and level of anxiety does not mirror their partner’s. Some couples argue due to disagreements on what the right steps to take are. Some need more space and some crave more togetherness” says Anna Aslanian – Marriage and Family Therapist.
In order for couples not to drift apart, both partners need to be conscious about the decisions and choices they make in their daily interactions.
Unfortunately one of the negative implications of isolation and lockdown is the surge of domestic violence cases. I believe it is important for victims to know that despite social distancing rules they can still ask for help and support. In many countries local specialist services are still open and are adapting the way they work to ensure victims can get the help they need. Specialist services can help victims think through their safety options and provide emotional support. Victims can also access support by calling a national helpline or accessing support online. In an emergency always call emergency services.
How do we manage conflicts that appear during this period? Are these more frequent – in families, for instance?
Individuals may have different reactions partly due to the differences in how they experience fear, how they understand and need safety, how they cope with the unknown and their past life experiences. These extraordinary circumstances will amplify all existing interpersonal dynamics, positive or negative.
When friends and family members try to hear and respect one another’s opinions they create safe places in their relationships and families. This way people can share their perspectives, which include their concerns, feelings and needs without feeling judged.
How important is specialized help, if we feel that the situation is overwhelming us? How can we find the courage to contact a psychologist, for instance, how do the consultations take place during this period?
Counselling and therapy are important probably now more than ever. It can be difficult to maintain our mental health and wellbeing when coping with so much uncertainty and turmoil at home and at work. Psychotherapists and counsellors have adapted their ways of working and most of them are offering online and over the phone sessions.
It is not always easy for people to reach out for specialised support but it is important to know that there is help available for when they decide to take this step.
Amalia Ancuta can be contacted on her Facebook Page, HERE.
You can also write her on the following e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
#coronastories are opened for people of all ages, from different professions and different countries. If you want to talk about the way you feel and understand these times, please contact me. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can also write to me at email@example.com. We can also talk on Whatsapp – +47 455 17 634 or on Skype – Ramona Sarac.