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COVID-19: Why You Are Feeling Stressed

PART 1: Social distance, day by day death counts, closed businesses, closed schools, layoffs, political fighting, shelter-at-home but wear masks in public, don't touch anyone or anything. If you are feeling stressed, you are not alone. Below are just a few reasons why the current pandemic is affecting us at a deep level.

It's global. 

You'd have to be in a coma or a cave to be immune from the stress of the current global pandemic. Global by it's a very definition means it affects all citizens of the world. Unlike more personal or regional stressors, it's difficult to escape and retreat to a safe place, whether that be physical or mental space. In all other areas and circumstances in our life, when we are going through a tough time, for example, relationship stress, job loss, or health concerns, we can reach out to a friend, partner, minister, or counselor who most likely won't be going through the same set of circumstances. 

The COVID-19 crisis is pervasive and we may be reluctant to mention our stress to others when they have their own stressful impact. Thus, it's difficult to know where to turn for help or relief when we perceive others as unable to lift us up. 

It changed our daily lives.

I don't know anyone who has not had a major upset to their normal routine. Kids from pre-school to college are home from school. Adults had to find quiet home office space overnight so that they could telecommute. That is, if they still have jobs. Seniors are without routine visits from family members that provide much needed social connection. If you are lucky enough to be deemed an "essential worker," you may live in fear of exposure to COVID-19 by continuing to serve a workplace that serves the public. And forget recreational pursuits, most beaches and parks are closed so we can no longer go for a hike or confer with the ocean to clear our heads. 

It stripped away our power. 

It is natural for us as free-willed human beings to enjoy what psychologists call self-efficacy: the ability to exert control and effect change over one's personal circumstances. Nobody could have predicted the worldwide fallout and individual impact the mysterious new virus from Wuhan, China would have when we were first "exposed" to it on our televisions and laptops. The virus is an intruder, infiltrating it's way into the lungs of a few and the psyches of all. It did not ask for nor receive permission to be here. It anchored itself on to our shores, with an arsenal of avant-garde weapons we are helpless to fight against. So we wait feebly for it to retreat when it decides it is through with us or for our policymakers to enable us to return to our pre-COVID life. Either way we feel helpless, which is one of the most difficult experiences of the human condition. Individuals who have been victimized by abuse or manipulation in the past may be particularly triggered by feelings of helplessness today. 

It renders the future unknown. 

There are no specific dates we can count on for a vaccine, to return to church or the gym, to visit grandma, or to get our jobs back. There are only estimates and hopes. Many of us have taken personality tests that measure our need for planning vs spontaneity. On one end of the spectrum, are people who plan out every hour of a 2 week European vacation. On the other end, people may book a one-way trip to Paris without any lodging or train reservations. Even if you don't consider yourself to be a planner in every day life, not knowing what the future holds in any aspect of our life is hard. Not knowing if things will get worse before they get better is harder. Combined with having no control, not knowing when we will be able to return to rituals and routines is a discomfort we are not accustomed to. Besides ourselves and our loved ones, we may hold concern for the future of the health care system or the economy at large. Since this is a global pandemic these are global uncertainties. We desperately want to get to the other side of this but don't yet know what our new normal will be.

Unfortunately, we are not just experience this stress in isolation but it permeates our primary relationship as well. Stay tuned for Part 2 - How the stress of COVID-19 is affecting your relationship.

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