We are in a crisis of proportions that most of us have never experienced. Our responses are very different, but it is clear that, in every one of us, the crisis triggers deeply rooted feelings and anxieties, and reveals our individual ways of dealing with them.
Many of these reactions are familiar as they reflect our sense of ourselves and our character. Some surprise us.
The stress of the current situation cuts through habitual defenses and coping tactics, and gets us where we are most vulnerable. It makes many of us feel out of control and without hope.
Being in this state is hard by itself, but, on top of it, we have to make major decisions for ourselves, our families, employees, patients to ensure everyone’s safety and wellbeing.
To deal with new challenges, our bodies have to stay strong, well-nourished and rested.
It is important to eat healthy, keep a reasonable sleeping schedule, and figure out ways of getting regular exercise to cope with the exhaustion of continuing stress.
We need to keep moving. Some of my more vulnerable patients walk around their apartments while talking on the phone. Some go out for a walk or a jog. There is an explosion of online opportunities from streaming yoga classes to Zoom dance parties. There are so many old and new ways of staying fit to try.
Some are quarantined alone and experience the stress of extreme isolation. Others are overwhelmed by spending all their time with their kids, partners, or parents.
Here, too, we need new boundaries and new routines. How much contact is needed, and what is too much? The answer will depend on your personal preferences.
One has to get creative with finding ways of both being with others, and carving out time to be alone.
We need to find ways to have a break from anxiety and worry.
For some, creating moments of respite comes easily. They use this opportunity to spend time with their loved ones, binge a TV series, or read a book that has been on their bedside table for months.
But for many, it has become hard to find physical or mental space to feel pleasure. Anxiety and panic are contagious, and there can be a pull to stay in that space. We need to create news-free, panic-free time for ourselves.
Finding something enjoyable, like eating fruit or writing a story, can be an island of normalcy. It can be a place where our mind can rest and start slowly rebuilding a more balanced picture of the world.
There is a lot right now that our minds need to process. We cannot do it alone. We need someone who can help us in our efforts to contain our anxiety, think through our decisions, figure out how to live in this abruptly changed world, and mourn our losses.
The people close to us can help us with much of this processing. But our loved ones might be struggling with the same issues, and their own feelings might not leave much space for what we need to do. Therapy can provide this space, both for basic support and for deeper work.
These times are hard, but they also give us unique access to our deepest anxieties and fears, which are usually hidden from us. Times of crisis can provide an opportunity to surface and work through old unresolved traumas or address some lifelong issues.
Under the current circumstances, therapy has its difficulties. Tele-sessions feel different from being in the office. You have to get used to connecting with your therapist in a new way. (You can take our online therapy quiz to see if it could work for you.) It might be hard to find time or private space for a session, or money to pay for it. You might need to re-negotiate your schedule or fee. All colleagues that I know are doing their best to accommodate their patients’ changing needs and provide much needed support.
My recent experiences provide many examples of our resilience.
We come back from feeling lost by finding creative solutions.
We bounce back from the point of deepest despair and find new strength to keep going.
We find new rhythms and endure.
And, most importantly: in crisis, we look for connection and ways to support each other.
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Julia Chislenko has extensive postgraduate training in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, and experience of working at an out-patient clinic and private practice. She works with a diverse population of patients, including immigrants and LGBTQ. Her previous academic experience and Wall Street career have provided her with a particular sensitivity to the kinds of problems that arise at school and in high-paced work environments, and understanding of creative blocks and difficult life transitions. She works especially well with clients at crossroads, struggling to figure out who they are and what they want in life, work, and relationships.