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Published on October 20, 2020

Managing our Emotions During the Pandemic

The world has become a very different place amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It is only natural that we would be experiencing anxiety or heightened emotions. The Centers for Disease Control reported in late June, 2020, that 40 percent of U.S. adults were struggling with mental health or substance use. Anxiety and depressive symptoms increased considerably in the United States during this period in 2020 compared to 2019.

This statistic is important because it provides a glimpse into what individuals are feeling related to the pandemic and the changes it has brought upon society. It’s important that we distinguish grief from depression (though we may experience both) and know when we should reach out for support.

All of us are experiencing different kinds of grief right now. The world is changing - some changes are temporary, but others may become permanent. Many of us have lost our connection to work, either losing jobs, or losing our normal environment as we work from home. Others have lost connection with friends and family. We have lost a sense of normalcy. There is also a type of grief called anticipatory grief, and with the pandemic presenting so many unknowns, this engenders feelings of insecurity.

What Can We Do?

Understand the stages of grief. This will help determine if what we’re feeling is coming from one of these stages. Everyone processes through the stages of grief differently and in no particular order. Kessler and Ross identified 5 stages of grief. Kessler added a 6th.

    1. Denial - “The pandemic is not going to impact me”
    2. Anger - “You are making me work from home”
    3. Bargaining - “If my family stays home for 2 weeks all will be fine, right?”
    4. Depression - “There is no end in sight to this”
    5. Acceptance - “This is real and I must accept and proceed”
    6. Finding Meaning – “This happened for a reason and I learned this"

Find a balance in our thinking. It's easy to get pulled into negative thinking which can lead to negative feelings. It is important to actively practice positive thinking and if needed, write positive messages in a journal daily.

Think about what you can and cannot control. Directed health measures from the experts (like wearing masks or social distancing) are things you can control. Follow them and be safe. You can't control what others are doing. You can control what you are doing and lead by example.

Have empathy. You will encounter individuals who are irritable and that may catch you off guard if you are used to them being kind. Remember the world we live in right now and show them empathy. They are going through tough times, too. Offer them support and encouragement.

Build connectedness. This is key. Research shows that the more connected we are to family, friends and the community, the less violent we will be toward others and ourselves, and the less mental health and substance use issues we will have.

Understand depression and when to seek help. Grief can sometimes lead to depression. Know the symptoms:

  • Persistent sad, anxious or empty mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts (call 1-800-273-8255 or go to nearest emergency department if experiencing this symptom)
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment

Anyone experiencing some of these symptoms for two or more weeks should seek professional guidance to determine if they’re experiencing depression. A good place to start is Bryan Medical Center's free, confidential, online depression screenings.

dave miers

About Dr. Dave Miers

Dave Miers, PhD, is director of behavioral health services at Bryan Medical Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.

He helped establish the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition in 1999 and chaired/co-chaired this Coalition until 2017. He currently serves on the Board of Directors. Dr. Miers is a member of the leadership group for the Lincoln/Lancaster County Suicide Prevention Coalition. Dr. Miers has published research and co-authored a chapter in the Routledge International Handbook of Clinical Suicide Research focusing on family survivors of a child suicide. Dr. Miers helped develop the Lincoln Lancaster Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors (LOSS) team in Lincoln, Neb. He also helped develop other LOSS teams in Nebraska and is active with LOSS team development on a national level.

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