By Jane Benjamin, Ph.D., Clinical Director
In a collective effort to limit the destructive path of Coronavirus (Covid-19), our lives have narrowed to our homes. Except for the heroic essential workers, we are all reminded innumerable times each day to go nowhere, or to limit our forays into the world to a bare minimum. This mandatory shrinkage of our lives is challenging in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. And there are some unexpected bright spots and precious opportunities in our smaller worlds during this truly surreal time.
In recent weeks I have been listening to my family, my patients, and my friends talk about the ways in which this new reality of quarantining feels particularly difficult. The most frequently discussed negative is the awareness of an insidious, dangerous virus with effects that range from benign to deadly. So much is not known about Covid-19 and the psyche does not do well with a threat that is coupled with so much uncertainty. Will I be ok? Will my loved ones be ok? Is that tickle in my throat the beginning of it? Living with a constant hum of underlying fear feels very taxing for people.
Along with the medical worries are the economic worries, which can be just as terrifying. Some can easily take work home and do just fine in a virtual world, but for others, economic security came to a crashing halt in mid-March. Again, the nature and the timeline of the path forward are largely unknown.
Loss of routine is another element that is particularly difficult for many people….. going to work, school, the gym, the market, regular meetings, lunch dates, haircuts, etc. are all different or non-existent. So, people are feeling unfamiliar to themselves, which is unsettling at best and very anxiety-inducing at worst. Developing some kind of predictable rhythm to each day is important right now.
But while routine is important, some people are taking this recommendation to “stay on schedule” too far. This is particularly true for parents who are attempting to keep their children on track academically. Some are putting enormous pressure on themselves to become teachers overnight. For most, this is simply not attainable…. and that is ok. The emotional well-being of both parents and children is far more important at this time than academics.
For those who live alone, the isolation and loneliness in being limited to home can be very hard. Many people, particularly single people who live alone, have spoken about missing the myriad incidental human interactions that typically fill their days…..stopping to speak with a neighbor, chatting with a sales clerk, seeing “gym friends,” catching up with the mail person, the butcher, or even just a fellow human at a bus stop. The lack of these important human interactions can leave an odd void.
And then there are the unexpected bright spots that emerge for some within this new version of life.
One person said to me, “This is an introvert’s heaven…..” For people who derive much of their contentment from being home, the fact that the world is asking nothing of them right now can be a relief. The lack of pressure to be anywhere else can normalize being anti-social. Suddenly the wisest thing in the world to do is to see no one and go nowhere. One mother commented that she is enjoying not having to say to her child, “Hurry up, get in the car… we’re late,” for a scheduled activity.
For some people, slowing down the pace of life can be an unexpected positive part of quarantining. It allows room to learn a new skill, a new language, make contact with old friends, try out recipes or binge watch a good series. Families are eating meals together, finding activities to do together, and just being in the same room together more often than usual. While this “togetherness” is not always easy, opportunities for moments of unexpected connection and joy can come from it.
For some, particularly those not managing young children at home, there is more room for meditation and contemplation. This can potentially allow for emotional breathing room that one didn’t even know was lacking. And finally, because this virus has struck the entire country and the entire planet, and because social isolation serves and protects us all, there is perhaps an opportunity to feel our collective humanity in a way that we typically do not. And that may be a plus for us all.
Here at The Counseling Center of Bronxville in Westchester, we are available for teletherapy on an as-needed basis for our community, so feel free to reach out if we can help.