How to deal with the emotions caused by COVID-19
What matters to you, matters to us and many of our members and friends in Sotogrande are feeling worried, anxious and in some cases depressed by the appearance of COVID-19 and the lockdown. To help you deal with these feelings, we spoke to local Sotogrande psychologist Maria Sancho to ask for her advice. We will also be sharing her advice on dealing with the quarantine and maintaining positive family relationships here. Please let us know if you have any other questions you would like us to ask her.
La Reserva Club – “Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions and help our members deal with these difficult times. The first question we’d like your input on is – how should we be feeling right now and is it normal to be feeling strong emotions in the face of this uncertainty?”
Maria – “Our life has changed very suddenly due to the appearance of COVID-19. The situation we are going through is unprecedented, and therefore, none of us have previous learning or experience on how to face it. Nor do we know when or how it will end and that can make us feel very uncertain and uneasy.
The important thing is to know, that whatever emotions we are feeling right now are valid and normal, and that we are not alone. Accepting our emotions, without judging them and feeling bad about them, is a key factor in this process.
Emotions arise in us for a reason, they are messengers, and they always bring with them important information about something that is happening inside us or around us, to help us act in the best way.
I explain to my patients that in the brain we have a kind of alarm that warns us when we are in danger, when we feel vulnerable, when we have to face a situation that we cannot control, or we feel uncertainty.
When this alarm is activated, we can start noticing symptoms. These include; insomnia, anxiety, obsessive and negative thoughts, the feeling of being overwhelmed, a tightness in the chest, claustrophobia, sadness, restlessness and fear.
It is normal for us to feel this way, as we are now going through a state of general alert, in which we are constantly bombarded with negative information that transmits the message that we are in danger. This means the alarm in our brain will be easily activated, manifesting these emotions. Remember this is a normal response and don’t feel bad about yourself or your family members for feeling these emotions.”
La Reserva Club – “It’s good to know that it’s normal to feel these emotions. Can you give us any advice on how to handle them so they don’t overwhelm us?”
Maria – “Unfortunately, we cannot change the reality of this situation, because it is not under our control. However, we can make certain changes in ourselves and in how we face it, and this in turn will cause a change in how we feel about it.
One of the main changes begins with how we speak to ourselves. In this situation where we can feel fear, anxiety and uncertainty, it is easy for us to talk negatively to ourselves, repeating to ourselves that “we are locked in,” “we can’t get out,” “it’s too long,” and to have anticipatory thoughts like “what if something happens to my family,” “what if I get sick,” “what about my job?”
This type of negative internal dialogue is normal and happens to all of us, however it is not very useful since, firstly, in a very high percentage of cases the negative anticipations we make later never occur, and secondly, anticipating the future is not going to eliminate the anguish we may feel tomorrow in the imagined case, but rather it is going to steal our energy today. This will keep our alarm going constantly and make us feel more uneasy.
The first step to this is to identify when we are having those thoughts, realize them and replace them with more reassuring ones: “This is temporary”, “Today my family and I are fine”, “This will pass”, “Today I can control what I do”, “I am safe at home”, “Everything will be fine” “I am doing the right thing”, “By staying at home I can help a lot of people and myself.” By thinking more positively our feelings of anxiety will diminish and we can put our situation into perspective.
It is also important that we anchor ourselves to the present moment, so that our mind does not race ahead. To do this, a good exercise is to try to focus on what we are doing in that moment, to look for objects that we have around us, the sounds that we can hear, the temperature that we feel, to become aware of the weight of our body in the chair, etc. Meditation and mindfulness can also help a lot, keeping us in the moment and stopping us worrying about the future unnecessarily.
La Reserva Club – “What’s your opinion on whether we should watch the news and seek out information about the coronavirus? Is this helpful or can it be harmful?”
Maria – “We are constantly bombarded by negative information regarding the coronavirus and its consequences, not only by television and the press, but also by WhatsApp groups and information coming from family, friends and acquaintances.
This can have a negative impact on our state of mind. Therefore, it is important that we establish some guidelines as to where, when and how to inform ourselves and set some limits.
Firstly, the only sources of information that we should consult are official ones, with balanced data and research carried out by experts, and try to avoid other non-official information that can reach us through WhatsApp and social media channels.
Secondly, the amount of time we are exposed to this news is also important. Personally, I advise patients not to seek out information more than once or twice a day. In the case that we are feeling a lot of concern about it, but we want to keep informing ourselves, the option of reading written articles is better than watching the TV news, since the images can have a greater emotional impact.
Finally, try to put a limit on conversations with our family and friends so that they are not monopolized by the issue of the coronavirus and its consequences. We can set aside some time to talk about it and then move on to talk about other issues that bring us together and make us feel better.
If you want to seek advice from Maria and her team, you can contact her via her website www.mscentropsicologia.com. She will be sharing more information and advice with our members in future articles, so please check back to our blog regularly.