The best thing we can do is to keep living.
With this Delta variant-fueled surge comes some pretty unpleasant déjà vu. Many cities are requiring indoor masks (for all) again and some officials have already said that they would reconsider lockdown if conditions don’t improve.
For the vaxxed, it feels profoundly unfair to face another wave of quarantine despite the fact that we’ve dutifully done our part to curb the spread, but given the high rate of infection amongst the vaccinated, the reality is that we may all be facing the same level of restrictions. If all of this has you feeling hopelessly unprepared for another year locked alone in your house, you’re not alone. Here are the 4 things therapists say you can do right now to emotionally prepare for another round of pandemic restrictions.
Feel your feelings (and talk about them)
“Step one is to validate and make space for any emotions you may be feeling,” says Suraji Wagage, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles. That may seem obvious, but one way that a lot of folks tend to cope with difficult feelings is by pretending they’re not there.
That’s not going to work. “Acknowledge that it makes sense for you to feel however you feel," Wagage says. Whether it seems like you’re feeling extreme emotions about this, no emotions, or something in between, recognize that your response is valid, he says. Wagage recommends talking to friends or family who can understand and commiserate so that you can have your feelings acknowledged by another person.
Also, I don’t know who needs to hear this, but if some of your feelings are anger and resentment towards anti-vaxxers, you are not alone. It’s important to acknowledge those feelings now. “The extent the vaccinated are adversely affected will significantly influence the extent of frustration and hostility that the public will feel toward the unvaccinated,” says Dean McKay, NYC-based psychologist and professor of psychology at Fordham University.
We are already witnessing this, McKay explains, but if it escalates to closures and other larger scale containment efforts that have economic consequences, it will be severe, and it’s better to prepare yourself emotionally for the fact that not only could the Delta variant situation get worse, you could get a lot madder about it if you feel like you’ve tried to be a good citizen while others shirked on their duty to public health.
Acknowledging your emotions may not make you feel immediately better, but it can prevent them from festering and disrupting your daily life. And while anger and resentment can be difficult feelings to process, they are totally sensible reactions to a challenging situation. “The reactions around potential lockdowns are reasonable, considering that many people found it psychologically demanding the first time around,” says McKay. Just try to proactively deal with the resentment you feel so that you don’t blow up at some maskless idiot in a way you end up regretting.
Reflect on what helped you survive the last lockdown
We’ve all learned a lot about ourselves — and what we need to survive and thrive — during the pandemic. Nikki Lacherza-Drew, a psychotherapist in New Jersey says that we should write out some notes about the emotional precautions and coping mechanisms we found healthy and helpful. “I have been reviewing coping skills with my patients and going back over what they did to survive the last lockdown,” she says.
Making a list of what you have done in the past to deal with your feelings may make it easier for you to deal with them in the future. If, for example, you know that dancing helps you feel less anxious and calling a friend helps when you feel sad, write all that down so that when you’re faced with big feelings, you have a pre-made emotional to-do list.
Check in with your support system
Now is a great time to reach out to the folks you care about. Chances are good that if you’re feeling some kind of way, someone in your support network is, too. Creating a strong sense of community helps us stay emotionally healthy, says Kojo Sarfo, a psychotherapist in Los Angeles. He suggests reaching out now to make sure you know how to maintain your support network. “Ask others what was or wasn’t helpful last summer in terms of checking in with one another,” Sarfo says.
I, personally, keep a list of my contacts and the best way to reach out to them. Knowing who likes to have Zoom hangs, who prefers talking on the phone, and who communicates only in memes helps me stay connected to friends in multiple ways when I’m feeling lonely.
Make a plan to do things that make you happy
“Many of us have already established routines for lockdowns, and these can be readily re-established again,” says McKay. “For those who struggled, it may be worth thinking of self-improvement methods that have been widely reported on, such as focusing on new healthy dietary habits.”
If you kept a schedule of activities that worked for you during a previous lockdown, plan to put it back in place if things go sideways in your city. If there’s a bunch of things that you wished you had done — like learning to bake bread or meditate — get yourself on course to integrate those things into your life. Making a plan to stay sane doesn’t have to be a drag. It could be as simple as dusting off your roller skates and finding a friend who will commit to skating with you twice a week.
Planning for fun may seem frivolous in the face of looming disaster, but it’s psychologically healthy. “The best thing we can do is to keep living,” says Shari Botwin, a psychotherapist also based in New Jersey. Botwin says it’s crucial to keep socializing — in safe, small, vaccinated, groups.
She suggests making plans now to spend time in nature, go for walks, take up a hobby, stay connected to family members and friends, and celebrate birthdays and other holidays in settings that do not cause more anxiety. Try not to plan too far ahead because the situation is changing, Botwin says, but definitely plan for joy.