The emotional impact of COVID-19: Is it a break or a breakdown? | School of Behavioral Health | Loma Linda University
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By Jackie Williams-Reade (Associate Professor of Counseling & Family Sciences) - April 27, 2020

The other day a colleague asked me how I was doing and my response was: "Great. Um, pretty good. I mean, just okay, I guess." We both laughed heartily at my quickly changing state of mind, but also acknowledged its validity. I don't know about you, but the last few weeks have left me perplexed at my own responses to COVID-19. One moment I'm bored from not being able to leave my house and then next I'm overwhelmed by the state of the world and an uncertain future. On a recent peaceful morning walk, I broke down in unexpected tears when a favorite song began to play on my phone and it reminded me of previous joyful times. On a day when I felt calm and like I was coping well, I was suddenly overtaken by rage when all it seemed I could hear was my spouse and his incessant breathing.   

I am okay and I am not okay.

I find the only good answer I can give to the "how are you?" question these days is "I am okay and I am not okay." I am feeling both at any given moment. And maybe it's that way for you. Some of you may be experiencing a much-needed break from the typical rush of life while others are at the point of a breakdown as life unravels. Our thoughts and feelings about how we are doing can change from moment to moment, which can be a dizzying and destabilizing feeling. The chaos and confusion of our exterior world can show up in our internal world and leave us feeling like we don't recognize ourselves.

Your reaction is normal.

While our reactions may not feel normal, it can be helpful to see and accept them as normal for what we are living through. As Viktor Frankl says: "An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior." This global pandemic is an abnormal situation and whatever your reaction might be, it's normal. We're all coping with a completely new stressor that we haven't lived through before, so we don't know what's normal for us or anyone else in a situation like this. And we each have different reactions in part because of how we experience and cope with fear and uncertainty.

Your reactions help you know what you need.

Whether you're numb, terrified, happy, devastated, or angry, acknowledging and accepting your reaction is an important part of coping right now. We accept our emotions not to resign ourselves to them, but rather to be mindful of them and take care of ourselves in response. Our feelings can tell us what we need.

If we are tired, we need rest.

If we are lonely, we need connection.

If we are sad, we need comfort.

If we are angry, we need to express ourselves.

If we are numb, we may need to just be and endure for a little while.

Take care of yourself.

This is a very difficult time. Don't be hard on yourself if your reaction is different from what you think it "should" be. Tune into how you're feeling, listen to what your body is saying it needs, and find a way to take care of yourself in this moment. Small gestures like sending a supportive text to a friend, glancing at the now clearly visible mountains to enjoy a moment of beauty, or reading an inspiring quote can all add up and give us what we need to get through moment by moment.

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