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Read this if you’ve been hard on yourself for how you’re coping with COVID-19

Written By Leandra Lehmann

  • anxiety,
  • COVID-19,
  • health,
  • lifestyle,
  • mental health,
  • personal growth,
  • self-care,
  • wellness
Woman working from home on couch

Credit: Jason Sean Weiss for Fredi

I’ve noticed as the dust of COVID shelter-in-place orders have settled, and domestic work and life patterns have become more routine, there’s been increased societal pressure and judgment around how to best cope.

This pressure, intensified by social media marketing advocates using your time at home to be productive, to create, to attend workout videos or online classes, to set new goals, to engage in self reflection, to spend time with your family. There’s pressure to see this time as an opportunity and to not let this rare situation go to waste- especially when so many people are sick or on the frontlines- in less safe or fortunate positions.  I have never seen the fitness industry producing as many workout video advertisements, weight loss challenges, or social media influencers advocating for the perfect body emerging from isolation. 

 

I’ve caught myself setting these expectations, as well as advocating to clients to use this as an opportunity and find the silver lining. In some cases, maybe even for you, this is an opportunity, to learn and create, to spend time clarifying your values and goals, to connect with your loved ones in novel ways, and to boost your immunity and mood through workout classes. These things might be helping you cope and keeping you sane. But you might fall into a different “can barely get off my couch” category where you just have the energy to figure out how to get groceries, wash the insanely huge pile of dishes and scroll through COVID memes mindlessly.

"There’s pressure to see this time as an opportunity and to not let this rare situation go to waste"

I’ve fallen into both categories and everything in between.

My first few shelter-in-place weeks, I started a long list of workout videos, online classes, and projects I wanted to do to optimize the time. I made a schedule that included calling a friend everyday and…

I didn’t do anything on the list and haven’t once followed that schedule.

I realized I need to adjust expectations to accommodate the unconscious ways in which this pandemic is impacting me- reducing my energy levels, motivation, and leaving my brain feeling foggy. If the 25 open tabs on my laptop last week and mindless snacking and insta scrolling weren’t indicators to me that I’m having trouble focusing and staying present, then I don’t know what is.

I realized I need to accept myself where I’m at, that where I’m at can change week to week, and that I’m going to try to be more present.

I’ve set smaller more achievable goals, 2-3 mindfulness exercises a week and 3-4 tabs open, and I’m acknowledging and celebrate the tiniest things that feel good- a call with a friend, a 15 minute walk outside, a 20 min new workout class. 

"I realized I need to adjust expectations to accommodate the unconscious ways in which this pandemic is impacting me"

Right now, many of us may be fortunate to work safely from our homes, have comforts like T.V. and entertainment apps, and a diversity of foods to cook. Despite these relative comforts of our immediate environment, we are still being bombarded by change, loss, paradoxes, conflicts and uncertainty in our society and world.

Pervasive uncertainties exist over the future, when school will get back in session, when work will resume, what restaurants and businesses will close in our communities, whether we or people we know get the virus or not, who might get laid off from their jobs.

We’re also experiencing the inner emotional conflict caused by experiencing so many multiple paradoxes: Mother nature is healing, and yet human beings are sick. We finally have time to spend with our families, and yet we’re encountering greater relational friction. We may have cherished time to reflect on our goals and yet the future is up on the air. We may feel gratitude and joy for the sanctuaries of our homes, and sadness and guilt for all the essential workers risking their lives.

We can feel joy and sadness, and many different emotions at the same time, but this may feel hard and new to us- with these emotions more saliently or strongly felt.

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In addition, under normal circumstances, adapting to change is difficult— even positive changes take energy to adjust to. The magnitude of the changes we are currently facing everyday is unprecedented. The COVID-19 death toll increasing daily, new regulations being rolled out, and experiencing the potential for landscape of cities and economies being forever altered. On top of this, we’re living and working side by side with people, in new (possibly makeshift and uncomfortable) settings, using ways (hello Zoom!) that we might not have before. That tax our eyesight, limit connection, and run counter to our communal drives as human beings. We are being stretched. Stretching can feel good, but it can also over-extend us and cause tears in our physiological and emotional lining.

 

Right now, loss and challenge exist in the fabric of daily life. A leisurely walk is not just a walk, it’s a dangerous obstacle course filled with avoiding people while not touching your face, mentally calculating the feet between you and another and what needs to get sanitized later. A happy hour Zoom call is not just a call—  it’s a reminder that you would normally be energetically hugging your friend, instead of the reluctant, fatigued friend that constant video conferences has turned you into. Everyday moments right now are filled with losses of the freedom we had, anticipated loss of what will happen as COVID runs its course, and reminders of what we can’t do.  

We may be grieving who we used to be and our lives before. We may be grieving the energy and goals we had and we feel confusion by the changes we’re noticing in ourselves.

Without the typical opportunities to achieve via work or school, which our Western society often associates with our worth, we’re left wondering how should we answer the question: “so, what do you do?”

….Uh, TikTok and dishes?

We may be experiencing a collective crisis of identity. Many of my clients are struggling with decreased motivation, lacking the validation of grades and observing their own teacher’s fatigue. We are left without the normal benchmarks to gage our success and offer fulfillment- and without the inner resources to achieve our usual expectations for ourselves.

I overheard someone compare this experience to being stuck in a “swamp.” According to the New York Time’s David Brooks, “there’s an invisible current of dread running through the world. It messes with your attention span. I don’t know about you, but I’m mentally exhausted by 5 p.m. every day, and I think part of the cause is the unconscious stress flowing through us.” Yes David, I am feeling abnormally tired these days. Normal expectations just cannot apply, and it is enough to be doing the best we can. 

"under normal circumstances, adapting to change is difficult— even positive changes take energy to adjust to."

With all the collective stress and trauma we’re surrounded by, it’s understandable to feel less energy, to feel down, to feel unproductive, overwhelm, confusion, guilt, or sadness. You are not alone. If you are feeling energized, optimistic, and productive- that’s ok too. Whatever feelings you’re feeling, try to use the reminders below to enhance coping and self-compassion. 

 

You can remind yourself:

  1. You are doing the best you can, and that’s enough
  2. There is no 1 right way to cope with a Pandemic. There are no roadmaps for how to feel or be
  3. You are not alone
  4. It’s ok to not be amazing, productive, creative right now.  Or to be just a little or less than your pre-covid self
  5. It’s also ok, to just be ok. If anything, that’s what’s expected. 
  6. All feelings are acceptable
  7. Be kind and gentle with yourself. You deserve self compassion and care. 
  8. Notice, celebrate and savor even the small things you do, as accomplishments- the call with a friend, the workout class, the time you carved out to read a book. 
  9. You are amazing, competent, strong, and (fill in your values). This temporary experience won’t change who you’ve been most of your life and how you have acted. You will see this side of you again. Be ready to say hello. 
  10. You will get through this and this situation will change. 
  11. This journey may end up revealing lessons we can’t see or anticipate yet.Trust growth will come in it’s own time

 

If you don’t have the energy or motivation to do the above, that’s ok! The fact you read this article shows something. If you can try to get enough sleep, eat 3 meals, and talk occasionally with your friends or loved ones-meeting your basic needs, then you’re succeeding. 

Leandra Lehmann

Leandra Lehmann is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist and Art Therapist who believes creativity, mindfulness, physical health, community connection and self compassion are critical to promoting holistic healing. Her extensive community-based work with families and caregivers, and time as Head of People Ops in a start-up, informs her diverse interests which include trauma, social justice, women’s rights, stress management, self-care, and relationship building. She also draws from her experiences as a Third-Culture Kid from the Philippines and her passion for travel.