COVID-19 – Why we Feel so Bad

Over the past couple of weeks I have experienced the same scenario over and over again with a variety of people. People reach out feeling overwhelmed, concerned, afraid, confused and helpless. The person just isn’t sure why they feel that way. The cause is society’s need to compel everyone to stay positive even in these times.

Even more serious are those individuals who, during these discussions report feeling guilty because they cannot cope with the effects of lockdown on their personal and work lives. Again there is so little self-care in this, it is sad that we live in a world where we are David facing Goliath and it is expected that we will take this in our stride without a hitch.

Then there is the prevalence of Covid boredom. People are tired of masks and sanitizers and a lack of good company and good coffee. They are not really bored, in fact they may be feeling the pressure more than ever, but as with positivity and guilt this is a form of denial and denial is often one of the first phases of grieving. And yes, we are grieving, but we either don’t know it, or we don’t want to show it.

The link between grief and the COVID crisis

Before I get into theory let’s take a look at grief. It is a construct that we so often fob off because what we are going through is “not that bad” especially when “no one has died”. Grief however is prevalent wherever there is a sense of loss. So being retrenched, losing a home, getting divorced (or ending a long standing relationship), big changes in physical or mental abilities, and the like all can bring on grief. Let’s take a look at what exactly what we are grieving right now.

As always I want to dust off Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. For those of you who don’t know Maslow’s theory, here is the CliffsNotes version. Maslow identified five stages of human motivation, and they need to filled in a linear progression, from the bottom of the diagram to the top, to best meet human needs.

The first two levels, at the bottom, are inward looking and refer to physiological needs and safety needs. At level 3 and 4 Maslow holds that humans have a need to belong and to be appreciated for their contribution. At level 5 humans start to self-actualize and their contributions become more significant as they focus on fulfilling their potential.

If we take a look at the impact of the Covid-19 and the lockdown on the average family we see the following:

  • Physiological needs
    People losing their jobs, their, homes and their ability to sustain the most basic of needs.
  • Safety needs
    Security is being lost as people are losing jobs, being forced to take unpaid leave, having salaries reduced. Along with this is the constant fear of themselves or a loved one getting ill and having the resources to care for them, get them hospitalised when healthcare resources are scarce.
  • Love and Belonging
    The most benign threat here is our inability to spend time with loved ones, which is in itself causing mental health issues. At worst the threat ranges from a loved one having to die in isolation to not being able to honour cultural and religious practices for fear of infection. Humans are social beings and without serotonin and oxytocin we are at risk of developing mental health concerns due to a lack of input from others.
  • Esteem
    There is no part of this facet of motivation that is not challenged. For those that are infected are stigmatised and ostracized from their communities.  For their families there is the guilt of not “doing enough”, even when freedom was sacrificed for the hope of avoiding infection. 
  • Self-actualization
    With so much uncertainty it is challenging to focus on self-improvement and further eats into self-confidence.

In short, what most of humanity is experiencing is an attack on every level of human need and in many cases multiple people in the same group, household or family are under attack at a variety of levels at the same time. This is why there is so much tension within relationships right now, and due to social distancing and isolation we have no escape physically from these tensions.

So has this article contributed to the fear-mongering and the sense of helplessness? I certainly hope not. I hope that I have shown you why you feel the way you do right now. That the way you feel is not due to your own shortcomings, and that there is a very real external threat that is putting unreasonable pressure on you. I hope this awareness helps you feel less helpless, guilty and inadequate. In my next post I will look at ways to deal with the emotions in a constructive way and use them to build solutions, albeit it short term