NORMALIZATION OF EMOTIONS: How to confront stressful event and survive coronavirus, earthquake and isolation

If drawness to the title lead you to this text, you must be looking for ways to confront coronavirus, isolation, earthquake, job loss, cancelling important plans and trips, online schooling, snow… and all the other difficult things that have been happening to us lately – whether you are a child, a parent or/and an expert.

Maybe yourself or someone close to you is dealing with a whole bunch of emotions – fear, anxiety, confusion, anger, insecurity, restlessness, over-caution, irritability, sadness, helplessness, hopelessness, feeling of loss of control, dissatisfaction. Inability to concentrate, to organize, to perform tasks and assignments as well as apathy are just some of the natural reactions to these unfortunate and abnormal circumstances that afflicted all of us. Within the last few weeks, especially the last few days, we have experienced numerous losses: loss of control, loss of our usuall routine and habits, loss of social contacts (personal as well as buisness ones).

It is OK to experience an entire cocktail of emotions which we can’t detect or don’t know how.

Whatever you are feeling, it’s OK. And if you don’t know how you’re feeling, that’s OK too. There is no right or wrong answer to how you’re supposed to feel and what you should be thinking.

A long-term situation of fear and misgiving of coronavirus infection, self-isolation, fear for your own life and the life od your close ones, fear of collapsation and losing your own home. Material, existential, health and many other concerns have become a daily part of our lives. Concerns about how are we and what is happening to us are expected in this period. Questions about how long will this last, how will it resolve, will it happen again – are completely natural, and occur to all of us intensively these days. Although it may not be a relief, we need to know that we are not alone in it and with it.

And it’s not rare that we hear others in our surrounding, or even ourselves, saying that we thought we are handling ‘the corona story’ well, but the earthquake reaped us. Traumatic event of an earthquake in Zagreb happened when our bodies have already been in a situation of increased caution for a long time, including vigilance and prolonged overwhelming anxiety and that makes the experience of an earthquake maybe even harder and more disturbing than it would have been if it happened during some more peaceful time. Anyhow, it is traumatic.

During coronavirus and before the earthquake we were under the impression that we could at least have a partial effect and have control. We controlled our staying at home, we took greater care of our hygiene and protected ourselves, but the sudden earthquake that morning agitated and shook what was already an endangered existentiality for all of us. Still, we noticed that our bodies were ready, we momentarily mobilized all of our bodies’ systems, immediately started saving ourselves and brought to consciousness what was the most important – our lives. But, when the most powerful quavers were over, we began to question meaning(lessness) ouf our capacities and dilemas of what could’ve happended to us and our loved ones, our homes. We go back to horrifying sounds of things falling, breakage, feelings of the ground beeing quavered, ‘seesaw’ feeling, collapsing… and that’s OK. But let’s try to bring back the feeling of what was the most important: that the ones closest to us as well as ourselves are healthy and safe. All of those listed feelings or some of them will keep coming back for a while, but, gradually, they will pass .

During this period, let’s be kind and gentle to ourselves and to others. Give ourselves time to adjust; adaptation to numerous changes doesn’t happen instantly – adaptation is a process. Our current successes with the daytime organization, doing school or work obligations, parental duties, providing a friendly warm word may not be on our usual level, but they are the best we can give at this moment. And for others, as well as ourselves, that’s more than enough. For starters, let’s focus on small things, our physiological needs – for sleeping, eating, hygiene.

Let’s plan out one ore two activities for the next two, three or five hours. Planning as much as five days ahead in a strict and specified deadline with an expectation we’ll succeed is almost impossible and therefore convicted to failure.

Let’s make a mini routine – cleaning up, cooking, doing personal hygiene, reading a book/playing, doing work or school assignments, sleeping. If we normally like strucure, order and organization, let’s use our advantages and plan our day, but step by step, for an hour or two.

First step is to lower our self-expectations that we should function the way we normally did – that’s a task we’ll almost certanly fail.

And more important – let’s not make things worse – choose official and realistic information and resist the temptation to continuously view the news, footages and photographs and statistics. It does more harm than benefit. Seek for supporting, but realistic sources of comfort. It’s not a time for pink shades, but it’s not time for the black ones, either.

Let’s listen to our needs and our children’s needs; if we need a break, let’s take it; if we need to step back, let’s grab a book or watch a movie/cartoon; if we need a hug or an attention, let’s ask for it. If we need to have fun, let’s play. Give yourselves and your children some time. Although our youngest ones my not know how to express or name their feelings, all the thoughts, worries and emotions are in their little heads and hearts. If they need you (physically and/or emotionally) more than usual that is expected and normal. Children seek for your support, you are their safety net. If they have the need to talk about the eartquake details, about what they were thinking and feeling, allow them the space and time to talk about it, help them name and connect those feelings with the event, let them draw it, let them talk about it few times more. Avoid conversations about frightening and overwhelming feelings and knowledgements in front of your children, but make sure you have at least one person for your own support.

These are completely new circumstances and we don’t need to deal with them perfectly, so if you feel you need professional help – there are free helplines available in your country, where you can get professional support and a comforting word.  

Let’s work on an empathy, not only towards others, not only towards our close ones, children, partner, parents, let’s be emphatic to ourselves. Let’s be emphatic like (maybe) never before. This is definitely not the best edition of ourselves and of our life and that’s also OK. Let’s give our best to ourselves, as much and in any way we can.

Emotions are important, they tell us what we need and should not be neglected. Whatever we are feeling – it’s OK.

And let’s not forget we still have a responsibility to take care of ourselves and others from potential coronavirus infection. Although it may seem we’re not doing anything, we’re in fact doing a lot. And our small steps have never meant this much before nor were they ever this great:#stayathome #hereoneforanother

Written by: Ana Raguž, Psychologist, M.A.

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