Sassy Psychologist: The Coronavirus Pandemic: The Ultimate Unlikely Teacher

The Coronavirus Pandemic: The Ultimate Unlikely Teacher

Is this a weird time, or what? Social distancing. School cancellations. Quarantine. Limited visits to grandma. Self-isolation. …and I don’t know about you, but after grocery shopping, I proceeded to Lysol-wipe the milk cartons and wash my blackberries in dish soap – if you couldn’t guess, soapy blackberries are gross. Mais, bon.

When freedom and fundamental needs are challenged by a rapidly spreading infectious disease caused by a novel virus, taking care of your psychological and emotional health is one of the most important things you can do. I am currently engaging in teletherapy and working with my clients à distance, and while many of them are feeling understandably anxious, depressive symptoms are not far behind, given the sudden disappearing act of our normal grind.    

One of the most important behavioural strategies I am discussing with my clients is scheduling.  Structure and encadrement is more important than ever in fighting anxiety and maintaining normalcy in these times. I was inspired to write this entry after seeing schedules like the one below, created for homebound families in desperate need of keeping their sanity during the Coronavirus crisis. 

Being a mom with young kids myself, I am very appreciative of a tool that will help create structure for my children, but these kid schedules got me thinking. Children are not the only ones in need of scheduling during this isolating time. In order to maintain psychological health, fully grown adults need to get ahead of the loneliness, sadness, and depressive symptoms that unnecessarily come with downtime. …and we are looking at a lot of downtime, folks. What’s your plan? What will you schedule for yourself? Let’s talk.

First, let me preface this with the fact that your safety and the safety of your family is priority #1, so listen to the authorities. Your schedule will inevitably include the chores, errands, and responsibilities required to endure this situation. But once you have set up your survival infrastructure and once you have helped your community in some way, what will you do, FOR YOU? 

The restrictions placed on all of us during this pandemic are draconian at best. But as the popular meme implies, being asked to stay home is much easier than being asked to war, as were our grandparents. So, why is staying home still so hard for so many? Granted, irrational fears of impending doom make sitting on the couch quite uncomfortable, but in the moments we are NOT being catastrophic or irrational, why is it still so hard to seize the day, occupy ourselves, and #staythefuckhome?

I mean, maybe this should be a time to remember what we love? How often have we fantasized about free time? Wouldn’t adding our hobbies, interests, and passions to our weekly schedules make sense right now? Life is no longer in the way, folks.  What will you do with your time? 

 

  1. Play an instrument
  2. Learn an instrument
  3. Record music
  4. Write songs
  5. Do a virtual dance class
  6. Start an internet presence
  7. Write a book or screenplay
  8. Read
  9. Paint
  10. Knit
  11. Learn about scuba diving
  12. Try new fitness workouts
  13. Cook
  14. Bake
  15. Make furniture
  16. Reach out to old friends
  17. Color
  18. Watch movies
  19. Play videogames
  20. Take online courses
  21. Do your nails
  22. Practice breathing, relaxation, meditation
  23. Visit a virtual museum, city, or zoo
  24. Get online therapy
  25. Scrapbook
  26. Learn mixology

So, what will we do? Option b? Option k? All of the above? Here’s the harsh truth: the answer is, probably none of the above. Here’s what we will realistically do: We will substitute our usual to-do list with a Coronavirus version. Workday to-do lists that would have included: 1) get to the office early, 2) re-arrange employee schedule, 3) send email to assistant manager, will be superimposed with: 1) get to grocery store early, 2) re-arrange food pantry, 3) send email to massage therapist to re-schedule appointment. Even after our pantries are stocked and our families are safe, to-do lists such as these may still take precedence over the list that would bring us joy.

Why? Why must we continue to go, go, go and work, work, work – even when we are no longer at work? I have a few hypotheses:

The Illusion of Control

Creating a Coronavirus to-do list, complete with nervousness and neuroticism, will give us a distraction and the illusion of control in an otherwise uncontrollable circumstance. For some of us, this to-do list will seemingly provide comfort and that’s ok. By all means, buy some bleach, freeze some loafs of bread, organize your pantry of non-perishables. However, a continuous and relentless stream of this kind of behavior will increase anxious thoughts and negative emotions that will eventually take a toll on your body. Your anxiety will be perpetuated by this excessive behavior. Creating a daily schedule, as mentioned earlier, will help keep the dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors at bay. (There is an abundance of other techniques to reduce anxiety during this time and you can find many of them with a simple internet search. For now, I’ll elaborate on another hypothesis).

 

When Worthiness is Dependent on What you Produce

Another hypothesis: The difficulty with staying home can be traced back to value – self-value or a lack thereof.  Many of us believe that our worth is based on what we produce. Our sense of identity can be strongly correlated with what we achieve and succeed. So, when a novel Coronavirus pulls us away from the thing that affirms our identity (aka our jobs), our sense of self and utility may be lost. 

It’s time to realize that your worthiness is not dependent on how “useful” you are or how much you contribute to society. You are appreciated even when you are taking a coffee break. You are valuable even when you are indulging reality TV. You are worthy even when your forgot to return your mom’s phone call. And this is where Bruno Mars meets an 80’s afterschool special: You are worthy, just the way you are. 

So, spending this bizarre time rekindling old loves - love of science, or Broadway, or videogames - does not make you selfish and useless. As a matter of fact, engaging in these activities might be the difference between whether or not you thrive or nosedive. Feeling guilty or useless in engaging in these activities is unfair to you. Discarding your interests and denying your heart’s desires, are the precise elements that will elicit sadness, loneliness, and depressive symptoms during this tough time. 

                You must have compassion for the situation you are in – that we are all in.  Your worthiness is based on your heart and your intentions, not what you produce for society so don’t judge yourself for penciling in self-care time. The Coronavirus is giving us a unique opportunity for powerful and consistent self-care that our lifestyles would, much to my chagrin, not normally allow. So please remember your dreams and your passions in this extraordinary time and do the things that bring you joy. Your mental health depends on it. 

Anna-Maria Tosco, or our Sassy Psychologist, has two masters degrees in the field of psychology and has studied and worked coast to coast. She has worked in both psychiatric and community settings in some of Montreal's most respected healthcare organizations and institutions, and has also given a variety of talks and workshops on neuroplasticity, meditation, and uncovering barriers to love.

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