When the pandemic began, a therapist told me that the one thing that would be consistent during this time is the fact that my emotions would be inconsistent. This would be one thing I could actually count on. My acceptance of this has been my lifeline for getting through this time.
You might have a “really good day”; one that has you thinking, “maybe everything is going to be ok…maybe I can handle this”. And then the next day you wake up feeling anxious. Or, the next day you find yourself being short with others. Or, the next day you don’t feel like doing anything but watching TV on the couch. Or, you’re crying for what seems like no reason. Sound familiar?
We can expect to have unpredictable emotions during this time of a pandemic. When I suddenly have a change of emotions, I say to myself something like this: “While this feels like it is out of nowhere, this unexpected emotion is to be expected right now.” I don’t have to like it, and I don’t, but I can at least remember that it was expected. Next, I can shift my focus. Rather than blaming, I can instead tend to my needs.
Whatever emotions you are feeling are valid. That message doesn’t always seem to stick. Instead, we are more likely to want to play whack-a-mole with our feelings, squashing them as soon as they pop up. For years in my social work career I have been preaching how emotions should not be minimized nor denied. And yet, when I do feel an uncomfortable emotion, my inclination is still to quickly resolve it.
How many times in the last few months have you tried to shut out the feelings you might have had? I get it, I don’t want to have them either. None of us wants the situation we are currently in. I’m right here with you trying to learn to live with these new feelings and realities.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a modality I keep coming back to during this time. As Good Therapy explains:
ACT does not attempt to directly change or stop unwanted thoughts or feelings … but instead encourages people to develop a new and compassionate relationship with those experiences. This shift can free people from difficulties attempting to control their experiences and help them become more open to actions consistent with their values, values clarification and the definition of values-based goals also being key components of ACT.
Using ACT, Dr. Russ Harris created the acronym FACE COVID. It goes like this:
F = Focus on what’s in your control
A = Acknowledge your thoughts & feelings
C = Come back into your body
E = Engage in what you’re doing
C = Committed action
O = Opening up
V = Values
I = Identify resources
D = Disinfect & distance
We aren't supposed to have this figured out; there's no way we could, we haven't experienced an event like this before. So as your emotions change from day to day, remember they are valid. They are reflecting the reality of the uncertain time we are in.
For additional strategies to cope during this time, stay tuned for next week's blog post from Dana Aderhold on emotion-focused and solution-focused coping.