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Dealing with Confusing and Conflicting Emotions During a Pandemic by Charity Hagains MA, LPC-S

“I’m tired and I haven’t done anything today.” “I cry for no reason. I’m in a much better position than so many other people, but I’m still crying.” “Why am I so angry? I just snap sometimes. I should be way more chill without a commute or early wake up times.” These are some of the things I have heard this week, and felt myself. We are all in the struggle at one point or another during this isolation period. I call it my quarantine cycle.

Every few days I start to feel overwhelmed – not by anything particular, just kind of over the whole thing. It’s week three in our house (I think…could be 4…I’ve lost all track of time) and it’s feeling hard. I heard that same sentiment from my clients this week, as well as friends and family members.

It doesn’t feel like a vacation anymore. It doesn’t seem like a much needed slow down. It feels more like one long endless day and that makes the hopelessness that much easier to come creeping in on us. My advice to everyone (myself included) is to accept that feeling in that moment. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed from time to time right now. Even if you are healthy and not experiencing an immediate crisis. Don’t compare your situation to anyone else’s.

Sitting around all day isn’t as easy as it sounds, and staying positive during a global pandemic is a mental challenge. Reassure yourself that your reaction to all of this is normal and part of the human condition, because it is.
Love your kids but also feel impressively annoyed by them? Normal.
Love staying in your pjs but miss feeling put together in your favorite outfit? Normal.
Love the quality time with your spouse, but also desperate for alone time? Normal.
Love the slow down of life, but also miss your fast lane lifestyle? Normal.
I know I’m not telling you anything new. I think everyone logically understands the strain of these strange times and that having these contradictory feelings is to be expected. But if what I heard this week and last is any indication, we are still struck by confusion as to how it can feel so hard and depleting to hold space for both kinds of emotion. And there is a fair amount of beating ourselves up for lashing out or expressing what we feel in an uncharacteristically big way.

Maybe you are like me. I went all kinds of angry lady on the poor guy who dared tell me they couldn’t get out to fix my internet speed for four days. This was not a big deal and that guy had no control over anything, but I can’t yell at a virus. I can be angry at the full stop of our society and disappointed by so many missed opportunities, but I don’t really have anywhere to direct that anger…until some poor sap tells me something I don’t want to hear, and I unleash all those feelings at once. Misplaced anger is pretty typical in a situation where we don’t have an appropriate target. In case you were concerned for the internet guy, I did apologize and explain I’m a little extra at the moment.

Breaking out in tears is much the same way. We carry the stress of a situation that is far outside of our control, even when we are chanting our positivity messages and writing in our gratitude journals. It’s still sitting with us every moment of every day, and we have few outlets to unleash those pent up emotions. Therefore, they can bubble over and we are suddenly crying. Maybe you saw something that touched a cord, maybe an errant concern or sad memory crossed your mind and left you uncharacteristically sobbing. That actually is an appropriate reaction to the situation we find ourselves in, not an “overreaction.”

Expect big displays of emotion from time to time while we remain in isolation. Meet those expressions with compassion and forgiveness, not only for yourself but for those around you. Remember they too are in the same boat and will be experiencing similar conflicting feelings.

Curious as to why your teenager is more moody than usual while he is getting to sleep in and play video games more? Shouldn’t he be excited about that? Well, he is and he isn’t. Just like you feel both sets of feelings, he does too.

Upset that your younger kids are more needy than usual even though you are spending so much more time with them? They too are experiencing an abnormal routine and feeling a wide range of emotions, and they don’t know how to express or process those.

Is your spouse snapping at you for no reason? That is likely to happen and leave you feeling hurt and confused. While it isn’t “okay” to take our frustrations out on one another, we aren’t perfect. We will mess up and lash out when we don’t intend to.

In this moment of heightened emotional responses we need to offer as much grace as possible. That doesn’t mean we have to abandon our boundaries. It’s still okay to say “that was hurtful and I didn’t like it. Please don’t misdirect your feelings onto me.” But it’s easier to respond rather than react when this happens if we are viewing the situation through the lens of grace, understanding, and forgiveness.

Remember to offer yourself those same things. Be gracious with how you judge and talk to yourself. Share compassion with yourself as well as others. Be generous with your inner monologue. This is what it means to really be “in this together.” That phrase is easily overlooked when we hear it so much. The truth of that statement is “we are all feeling off our game and we all need more grace than ever because of it.”

Good luck this week everyone! I know we are all feeling exhausted by our suddenly changed lifestyles and disappointed that our holiday weekend was so different than we had hoped for. I hope you will continue sharing those hard feelings with one another, and with us, so we can all be there to offer support to each other!

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