Last week, I chopped four inches off my hair. It isn’t something I would have never done under “normal” circumstances, say for example, in the absence of a pandemic.
Two-three weeks ago, I was working around the clock trying to adjust to my new normal. I was maybe sleeping 4-5 hours a day.
Three weeks ago, when I started working from home, I was on the verge of tears anytime I spoke with someone outside my home, but especially when talking to family and colleagues.
Experience in academia has taught me several things about how I handle stress, but most importantly, it has taught me that I internalize it so well, that I only realize I’m stressed once the stress has physically manifested and I feel unwell.
Once again, I had no idea I was feeling stressed. Actually, I was feeling panicked. Everyone says, “worry only about the things you can control”. Well, as an epidemiologist and science communicator, I felt like I had been sounding the alarm since January, maybe February! I felt and feel, like that is one part of this pandemic response that I am in control of. Yet, often, feel like I’m speaking to a select few only, and for something, speaking into a void.
Still, I’ve persisted in my pursuit of science communication and continue to update anyone who will listen about scientific evidence arising about covid-19 and the virus that causes it. I post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, send via text…you name it. Give me a platform, and I will attempt to educate. Not to mention, regaining a semblance of normalcy as I work to continue my own scientific pursuits for work.
Still, not gonna lie, it’s exhausting. Especially when you see that people still don’t get it and/or simply fail to comply with #socialdistancing, for example.
Starting to realize that I was spiraling into a physical manifestation of stress/panic, I attempted to take a step back and reflect. Coincidentally, I read two things that put a lot into perspective:
- “Guidelines for working during this pandemic” from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, shared by good friend and colleague Dr. Dori Pekmezi.
The first point was SO EYE OPENING. YES. I was, in fact, not just working from home. I was IN FACT, at home, during a crisis, trying to work. WOW.
Also, why was I on the verge of tears every time I joined a zoom call?? This tweet summarized the reason why:
Finally, as a natural introvert, I expected to transition into remote-work and social distancing pretty easily. But what I found myself experiencing was more profound than that. I found myself grieving. Then I read this article and it made made so much more sense:
People are feeling any number of things right now. Is it right to call some of what they’re feeling grief?
Kessler: Yes, and we’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.
You said we’re feeling more than one kind of grief?
Yes, we’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.
Eventually, I left myself breakdown. Several times. I broke down in tears, all by myself, and let it all out. Sometimes, you have to break down in order to build yourself up again.
So what does this all mean and what am I to do??
So, if anything you have read in this post rings a bell, or if you identify with it in any way, you may be asking, well, how do I fix it. I started to wonder the same thing, and refer to the third section of the HBR article, which says:
Understanding the stages of grief is a start. But whenever I talk about the stages of grief, I have to remind people that the stages aren’t linear and may not happen in this order. It’s not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world. There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.
Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.
But also, this article which spoke to one of the things I was worried about the most…my productivity.
Among the tips, the suggestion to “embrace a new normal”. In my mentoring, I always speak to the ability to be flexible, and how flexibility is many time, the key to success. Worrying about what was going to happen next, in the presence of uncertainty was wasted energy for me. Rather, focusing on what I knew what certain for at least another month (ie remote working), and findings ways to thrive and adapt, would be how I would move forward.
Thanks to friends, I quickly found ways to reconnect with friends and family I was no longer seeing on a regular basis. The House Party app and Facetime have been great ways to reconnect. We, as a family, take more bike rides than ever before. We make an effort to play outdoors at least an hour a day. Those are things we keep within our control. I’ve also reminded friends that social distancing DOES NOT MEAN SOCIAL ISOLATION. Make it a point to stay connected. Fellow epidemiologist and twitter colleague posted this recently, and provides suggestions for staying in touch with people.
Everyone says, “worry only about what you can control”. Well, that has certainly been harder for me to do than people expect it to be. I am a worrier by nature. I worry about all the things, all the time. So what is working for me, is coping. The articles mentioned above, are things that are shifting my mindset and helping me cope.
Remember that stress is not good for your health. I know this well. If you are struggling with this, I highly encourage you to talk to someone about it. Here are some tips provided by my institution. I hope they are helpful for you:
“Despite the outbreak, it’s important to remember that life still goes on and that there are a number of strategies people can use to cope with this type of stress, said Laura Dreer, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Sciences. “We know that people have a tremendous ability to flourish in light of what one might consider life-altering situations.”
As I mentioned before, we are likely in this for at least a month longer, if not more. That means, at all costs, try to preserve your sanity, take care of yourself and your family first, in whatever ways that is possible. I know that many of my family and friends are considered essential workers, and for them, social distancing is not possible. I can’t imagine the stress that must be causing. For those who are affected financially by the covid-19 crisis, this HAS to be extremely stress and panic-inducing. If this applies to you, here’s a good article I found with resources that I hope can provide some answers.
I end with a poem that is relevant to the topic of infectiousness, and something you can do from a distance. 🙂