I’ve noticed a pattern these last few weeks: Clients telling me about their worries, relationship issues, anger management concerns, depressive symptoms and when I mention, “Yes, and there’s certainly an added layer of stress that we’re all living under right now!”—I suddenly get a dirty look.
Actually, more than a dirty look sometimes: I’ve gotten outright dismissiveness, even annoyance that I even brought up the current crisis.
- “It’s not COVID, it’s that I can’t get over my ex-girlfriend”
- “It’s not COVID, it’s how bad I am at my job.”
- “It’s not COVID, it’s my parents who won’t stop trying to run my life.”
What I think is at play is that we’re still trying to deal with the stuff we were dealing with two months ago without the acknowledgement that it all just got more difficult.
It’s Just Harder Now
The issues and problems and concerns didn’t go away. The thing that brought you into therapy six months ago didn’t disappear.
But we are all living through a trauma right now and anything—anything—that we were dealing with before, both the good and the bad, is being funneled through our personalized trauma response.
- It’s harder to be creative in our work or art.
- It’s harder to be attuned to our partners and kids.
- It’s harder to keep our work output at the same level.
It’s all just harder.
Our brain is literally not working as well because it has to accommodate being in a world full of uncertainty, stress, and fear. And I’m talking about the external stuff coming at it. Then we add our own uncertainty and stress.
So when someone is talking to me about how annoyed they are with themselves for not being able to be a better father, son, employee, or employer—talking about COVID-19 is not to give them a pass. It’s not to say that they don’t need to still work on themselves, it’s to acknowledge that whatever you were working on prior to March 2020 just got more challenging.
It’s not your fault.
And it’s also not in your control.
And the progress you were making isn’t now lost (but it may be harder to see.)
It may be more difficult to judge yourself and your well-being now, but start with the idea that you have been affected by and continue to be affected
- by the Social Distancing,
- by the barrage of ever changing news stories (even if you’re not listening to the news, you’re probably getting some summaries or whiffs of what’s going on from somewhere),
- by how other people’s trauma responses are trying to find their own homeostasis among all this uncertainty.
Your goals may not have changed, but if they seem a bit more challenging to meet, it’s because of what you were trying to do before, and yes, it’s because you’re in the midst of a crisis with an unknown endpoint.
Admitting It Is the First Step to Not Being Controlled By It
Admit that you are affected by other things outside your control. You are human (I promise.)
Maybe you had poor sleep hygiene and over the past few weeks you’ve been sleeping really badly.
Yes, you had a “pre-existing condition” of not having the best bedtime ritual and method for falling and staying asleep, but you are now adding to that a pandemic.
So stop yelling at me and saying that this is not affecting you! (Or yell at me if you have to–I can take it and we can work on your anger that way.)
COVID-19 didn’t change us from one thing to another, it exposed the deeper recesses of things we may have thought we conquered.
Thinking about reaching out to chat? Please contact me for a free 15/20 minute consultation.
Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert. He is a Brooklyn therapist (as well as also seeing clients online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working with men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.