The Covid-19 pandemic has brought many difficult changes. It’s turned our lives, our world, upside down—claimed family members, businesses, and freedoms.
This is a chaotic, deadly time.
And we’re all in the middle of trying to figure it out.
If we consider life in a pandemic uncharted territory, we see its many landmarks only as we come upon them in the moment. We’ve become lonely travelers in scary and sometimes dangerous new frontiers.
Although we may feel we are going it alone, traveling through this new way of life brings up similar experiences for many of us.
When do we wear masks? With whom? How close is too close? Can we hug our grandparents?
Ways of interacting and moving through the world that had become second nature are reversed or starkly altered.
Bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues were closed, then open with restrictions and guidelines from national medical advisors. Do we feel safe in them yet?
Each person seems to have their own opinion and strategy for navigating these uncertain waters. And some of them feel that the rules do not apply to them.
Catastrophe as a Way of Life
Catastrophe has not just “already occurred.” Life in a pandemic means we’re constantly waiting for the next catastrophe to occur. Will it be the loss of a business? Will a loved one fall ill? Will another of our brothers fall victim to police brutality? Will protests and arguments forever dominate the headlines?
Fear of the Disease
Covid-19 is perhaps the scariest disease of our lifetime due to the ease of transmission and the severity of symptoms. Not only that, symptoms linger long after the disease is gone—like breathing difficulty, cardiac issues, and fatigue.
Fear of death hangs over us, a constant niggling in the back of our minds. We don’t know who’s going to be sick next, or if we’ve been in contact with them.
Life in a pandemic means we are all vulnerable, and none of us knows exactly when or where we might encounter the disease.
Anxiety, however, is ever-present. In that, Covid has made us all equal.
Life in this particular pandemic has an added dimension, or a second plague, if you will.
The long time plague of racism.
The sickening reality of the Covid-19 pandemic and its interaction with racism is that Black and Latino communities are hit 3 times harder than Caucasian communities. And People of Color are nearly twice as likely to die from the disease (CDC 2020).
More Anxiety and Depression
As a side-effect, there are rising levels of anxiety and depression in young adults and Black and Latino people of all ages who do not have Covid-19. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Black Americans sometimes experience more severe forms of mental health conditions due to unmet needs and other barriers” and “are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population” (ADAA, 2020).
All the Ways Life in a Pandemic Has Changed Us:
Added Stress on Women
Women are stretched more than ever. They have always spent more time on home and family care activities than their male counterparts, but now to the nth degree. It’s a super-woman feat to manage children who are still at home instead of at school while juggling increased household needs from the constant presence in the house and work on top of that.
Or, they may not be working as a sudden adjustment to meet the needs of their family during pandemic life. It’s not that women have more trouble balancing competing demands than men, but it’s more common (or more expected?) that women will adjust their professional lives to meet family demands.
Shift from In-Person To Virtual
Many jobs have gone virtual as a result of the pandemic. Not that bad, maybe.
Many classrooms have also gone virtual. A little harder here. How are parents supposed to monitor their children’s virtual education while still providing for the family?
Not only those day-to-day elements of life have gone virtual, but so have our life occasions. Many family gatherings, birthdays, weddings, must be conducted and attended online. No hugs, no sharing of food.
Blurring Boundaries Personal and Professional
Homes and cars became offices. Cats poke their heads into chats with coworkers. Children interrupt professional meetings.
Life in a pandemic means our colleagues can see our private personal space, family photos, an unmade bed. It almost feels like an intrusion.
Living with Terror and Anxiety
More than ever, people are battling existential uncertainty. They share unsettling stories and fill our newsfeeds with frightening facts and images. Social media circles with debates about the risks we’re taking and what’s acceptable.
We’re all in unfamiliar and dangerous landscape.
Many people are dealing with guilt, whether that’s feeling privileged, feeling you’re not doing enough to prevent the pandemic or any number of other reasons.
Guilt has become like our defence, a known in a sea of unknown, against a frightening reality–that the pandemic is a random occurrence over which we have no control.
We feel powerless.
Loneliness and confinement in our homes is a hallmark of the social isolation of life in a pandemic.
It’s scary to see our friends and family members.
We don’t socialize.
Houses are crowded with children and home offices, too much together time and too little privacy. Our usual social networks (the face-to-face kind) have disappeared. Domestic violence has increased.
Feeling “Stuck”/ Life on Hold
Time becomes a blur in pandemic life. It’s hard to keep track of dates, and you can’t plan very far into the future.
We don’t know how long this will last. Will it be early next year or longer until we resume our usual lives?
We crave news for answers, but we often come away feeling worse after.
Appearance Is No longer Important
We used to get dressed up to go to work, but with life in a pandemic, it almost doesn’t matter how we look. The dress code has changed—YouTube videos are circulating of people dressed professionally from the waist up, but wearing shorts or pyjamas underneath.
Women scarcely put on makeup, and it’s difficult to get haircuts. Many of us have resigned ourselves to a dishevelled and unkempt look.
Hight stress levels have led to a 400% increased consumption of junk food. For many people, stress eating and weight gain have gone hand in hand with pandemic life. Others feel the only pleasure they get is from food.
Then, after realizing how much weight we’ve gained, we feel self-critical and depressed.
Undermined Mental Capacities
Neuroscience research shows us that the brain is not built to do complex thinking at times of great stress. High-level executive functions such as planning, abstract thinking and focusing are impaired (Sanders, 2020)
We all feel somewhat distracted and are having difficulty focusing. It’s hard to motivate ourselves to even start.
Struggle to Find Meaning
Life in a pandemic has left many of us with a feeling of gloom.
Why did this happen, and how could we let it?
Why aren’t politicians acting decisively?
We are grieving the loss of our previous lives. This grief of the past is a reality, even if what we had didn’t work at the time.
There’s a general sense that life is not supposed to be like this.
Uncertainty and Anxiety
We don’t know when the vaccine will be ready and available. Uncertainty ranges from “How long will this last?” to “Will I get sick?” to “How will I pay my rent?”
And it continues into the future–Are virtual offices and meetings our new and changed reality? Are we ever going back to offices and schools?
Days seem long, and we’re all fatigued by the end of them. Uncertainty and anxiety also take their toll leaving us exhausted.
We need a break.
On the lighter side, life in a pandemic has forced us to improvise and be creative.
Desks and rooms have new uses. Teachers have shifted into lesson plans for virtual platforms. Restaurants are sending cocktails home in sippy cups.
Change is always a source of fear. And these are some of the biggest changes we’ve ever experienced individually and as a community. Not only that, these changes blindsided us. (See the next section.)
Feeling Caught Off Guard
Change is constant, so we usually don’t notice the little changes. And when we know a change is coming, we have a chance to prepare. It’s when we’re caught off-guard that we get discombobulated, unsettled, or even angry.
Everything has changed, how we work, live, shop, socialize, pray… Life in a pandemic has changed how we see and feel about the world. This kind of change can create a sense of uncertainty and fear.
And let’s face it—even when it’s for the better, change isn’t easy.
How to Adjust to Change (Life in a Pandemic):
1. Acknowledge the monumental change.
We are in the midst of change, and we don’t know where we’ll land.
2. Be kind to yourself.
Have empathy with yourself. This is not easy, and it’s okay for you to take it easy as often as you can. It makes sense that you may be anxious and afraid. For the foreseeable future, we’re all taking one step in front of the other…
3. You’re not alone.
We are all going through our own versions of these experiences. The whole world is in the midst of pandemic life, and none of us is alone.
4. Modify your standards.
The bar is lower during pandemic life: getting up in the morning, being able to take care of your kids, and accomplishing any bit of work from home are all big successes right now (Health Matters, 2020).
Do You Need Help Dealing With These Stressful Times?
Dr. Irena offers online therapy for those who live in Houston, The Woodlands Texas and New York City. She is a certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist with over 20 years of experience working with women and couples.
If you need help with your navigating life in a pandemic contact Dr. Irena at 281-267-1742 or email her at [email protected] and find out how she can help.
Sanders Science News June 6 2020