March is here. It is now officially a full year since my family and I were all diagnosed with Covid. A year of nerding out on the psychological literature surrounding trauma so I could understand what was happening to me. So, here it is. Your latest thread...
I’ve been thinking about stress. Because who hasn’t. Stress is my life. I have been called sensitive, a worrier and other things I don’t feel comfortable repeating in polite society. Over the years, stress has become my biggest foe.
But over the past couple of months, I have learned something that I wanted to share with you, in the hopes that it would help you as much as it helped me.
It is a Wednesday. It is almost half term. I am still homeschooling. I am still in lockdown. I want a holiday so much I could cry. But instead, I’m going to spend a few minutes talking to you about emotional coping.
Coping with stressors can be done in a bunch of different ways. But in a situation like ours, where things are out of our control and we can’t physically go out there and change the course of the pandemic, emotional coping becomes more important.
It is not about changing where we are and what we are experiencing. Rather it is about helping our emotions cope with it.
Good morning. It’s time for another thread, and this time I’m going to talk to you about coping. I’m going to take what research tells us about the psychology of operating in extreme environments and see what we can learn that could help us in our current lockdown.
I think many of us are feeling as if there is no end in sight now. We seem to be alternating wildly between hope and hopelessness. We are isolated, entirely bored or wildly overworked, and there is little we can do to change our situation.
What that means is that a huge amount of the research that has been done on Antarctic winter-overers, astronauts and submariners can applied to where we are now. We talked last week about the effects these environments can have on our brains and behaviour.
Another day, limped through. What I’m noticing recently is that I’m getting so frustrated w/ myself. My brain works properly for a v small window of time & then I just can’t seem to think. I forget my kids names (although honestly, that’s nothing new). By afternoon I’m useless!
I’m beating myself up for not doing my job properly, for not homeschooling properly (*laughs hysterically*). I am SO clumsy! Okay fine, I’m always clumsy. But this is worse. I’m so damn distractable. And let’s be honest, there are so many distractions around.
I want to be myself. I want to focus and feel like I can recite the alphabet without wandering off halfway through because I’ve spotted something shiny.
Incident report from homeschool: 6yr old sustained an injury to his knee. When questioned how said injury occurred, 6yr old replied “I hurt myself on some play doh.”
Investigations are continuing.
Today’s learning focused on Aberfan. Or “Fabistan” as is known in this particular school. Class also discussed Shakespeare. Who wrote something. At sometime. About someone. “To be honest,” said 9 yr old, “I wasn’t really listening because I know everything already.”
6yr old had a VERY exciting opportunity to do a zoom call with his teacher and classmates. Events unfolded as follows.
6yr old, 6am-1pm: Talks without drawing breath.
1pm, now he is being asked to talk: Silence. Utter, crypt like silence.
1.10pm-now: Talking. Still talking.
I’ve been thinking about the situation we are in. The isolation. The ever present sense of danger. The feeling that we are entirely at the mercy of our environment. And it struck me that the psychology of it is not unlike that of extreme environments - think space or Antarctica.
An extreme environment, in psychological terms, is one that places high demands on our emotional, physical, cognitive or social capabilties. What those demands are depends upon the environment.
So, for example, an isolated environment may lead to profound social and sensory deprivation. Whereas a more chaotic environment is going to lead to sensory overload.
Okay, so, another 3 weeks... Let’s talk about it. About where we are now. This bit, this is a different psychological phase. We’ve passed through the initial shock of finding ourselves in a global pandemic. We’ve built some kind of new normal, uncomfortable though it may be.
The psychological struggle in this phase is a different one. But it is a struggle. We are re-evaluating what we have, who we are, how we function.
Whenever our beliefs about the world change, it is tough. A challenge, both cognitively and emotionally. We thought we knew how the world worked. Suddenly we have to navigate our way through a world that looks entirely different.
Day 2 (I think) of quarantine. After a night battling off a panic attack, I got to thinking. I've spent a lifetime obsessed w/ disasters & how we cope w/ them. That means that I have access to hoards of random information about the psychology of situations like this. Cos I'm odd.
So, in the interest of not losing my damn mind, I'm going to share w/ you what I know. In the hopes that it will be of some use to you. My plan is to do what I can, when I can, and if anyone has questions about the psychology of this, I will do my best to answer them.
Let's begin w/ where we are now. We're in it. It's happening. And it SUCKS. Research shows that, in this phase, we're all going about assessing what this situation means to us. Not just in terms of practical things, but also in terms of our sense of identity.
On Saturday, I had a colossal panic attack. Hyperventilating, palpitations, the works. Our entire world feels so terrifying right now & for those of us w/ anxiety, it is hard not to feel the sky is falling. To help me cope, I turned off social media & restricted my news intake.
We are a social species. We take our cues from other people. When we see others panicking, it tells our brains that panicking is the right thing to do.
But the thing about fear is it alters the way in which our brain works. fMRI studies show that when we are frightened, our prefrontal cortex (basically the smart part) of our brains shows reduced function. Therefore it is MUCH harder to think logically, to make good decisions.