Resource Development Associates

Why We May Not Be Our Best Right Now: Effects of Crisis and Isolation on Mental Health

By Nicole Gamache-Kocol, MSW

We don’t know what “normal” means anymore. Although we are sharing this experience of a global public health crisis, our individual responses, both strategic and psychological, will vary greatly. It can be easy to forget that, during crisis and isolation, we aren’t all coming from the same place, we aren’t all going to react the same way, and some will handle it betters than others. It’s important to remember not to make assumptions about what another person may be experiencing.

You are likely experiencing difficult emotions right now, and it’s okay. Know that those feelings are valid and are related to both the state of the outside world and to our animal brains. There are explanations for what you might be feeling that are both evolutionary and psychological. Here are a few.

1) In crisis situations, our brains struggle to work at full capacity. If you feel like you can’t focus, whether it be on school, work, kids, friends, dishes, social media, or anything else… it’s because you really can’t focus. For most of us, complex thinking about multiple things (executive functioning) is broken right now. This impacts concentration, memory, organization, behavior, motivation, decision making, and more. Have you been staring at the microwave for an hour? Maybe it took you 30 minutes to remember which cupboard your cups are in? Missing meetings? Forgetting to set alarms? Upset because you can’t do things as well as you should? Your brain very likely isn’t at its best, and that’s okay.

2) We are social animals, even introverts. We rely on others that we trust to help us work through our struggles, celebrate our successes, challenge our thinking, and comfort us when needed. Being alone or with people who might be harmful to us is painful and will hurt. We are oscillating through a variety of emotions, including anger, frustration, fear, and lack of control, yet our typical social supports aren’t as accessible as we need them to be. So right now, being alone even if you are naturally introverted and being with other people even if you love the ones you are with, is going to be hard. It might not be hard all of the time, but it will be hard some of the time, and that’s okay.

3) When facing a threat, we are evolutionarily wired to “fight, flight, or freeze.” During this crisis, some people are fighting – they are planning and strategizing, getting things done and making things happen. Some people are in flight mode – they might be in denial, avoiding news and social media, crafting or gardening, enjoying the free time, celebrating the good. Some people are frozen – they are struggling to get out of bed; eating too much or not eating at all; finding themselves depressed, frustrated, or numb. You might be moving from one of these natural responses to another, or simultaneously experiencing more than one. Understand that whatever your response is, it’s okay, and someone else might not be in the same mode as you, and that’s okay, too.

It’s more important now than ever to check-in with one another. Ask your friends and colleagues how they are doing. Be kind to one another. Some people may be feeling more isolated and alone than others, and a little support can go a long way.

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