Experiencing the pandemic blues
I am not sure anyone is immune to feeling the effects of the pandemic.
I’ve been mostly doing well during the pandemic and Melbourne lockdown, but boy oh boy, this week I was really hit with the pandemic blues.
I sat in bed each night watching TV, ate a lot of potato chips, axed my exercise routine and cried on the phone to a friend.
What was most interesting about my experience of the blues was that I was JUDGING myself for feeling sad and lonely…
I found myself having thoughts like:
“You can’t be sad, you’ve got work.”
“You can’t feel sad when everyone is toughing it out.”
These thoughts were making my mood worse, giving me a dose of the pandemic blues.
The problem was, I was feeling guilty for experiencing normal emotions.
I have also heard friends and client’s express guilt for feeling difficult emotions during the pandemic, including:
“I shouldn’t feel lonely, because I have my partner” and “I’m sick of not seeing family, but I don’t want to complain, because we live in Australia.”
It’s a well-known psychological phenomenon that if you judge yourself for feeling difficult emotions, a low mood will be perpetuated.
An easy way to demonstrate this is through, what I call, the “couch example”:
That is, you’re feeling a bit “blargh” and exhausted from your day at work or uni, so you sit on the couch and watch TV, but you find you can’t pull yourself off the couch. Instead of just validating yourself that you need ‘time out’, you feel angry and guilty for wasting the evening – this perpetuates a low and grumpy mood. That is, your judgement of your tiredness and low motivation, leads to almost a depressive state. However, if you just gave yourself permission to take a break, you would feel refreshed.
How do you keep the pandemic blues at bay?
Isolation is tough – it’s not uncommon to feel lonely, anxious at times, sad and frustrated. If you’re judging yourself for these normal emotions, you may be experiencing the ‘pandemic blues’.
If you’re in this pattern of thinking, the first thing to do is observe your thoughts of judgement (e.g. “I shouldn’t be feeling sad”). The act of “observing” reduces the impact such judgement has on your mood and self-esteem.
Once you’re able to observe your judgement, you can start to practise self-compassion. Self-compassion requires you to show yourself the same warmth and kindness you would show a friend. It’s not about removing pain (e.g. sadness or loneliness during isolation), but it’s also not about punishing yourself with judgement and self-criticism.
At first, showing self-compassion can feel uncomfortable and strange. People who judge themselves frequently find it difficult to show themselves warmth and understanding. Therefore, self-compassion can take some practise before you start to feel the positive effects.
A helpful strategy for practising self-compassion can be to imagine what you’d say to a friend. For example, if you’re feeling lonely during the pandemic, what might you say to a friend to give them warmth and understanding if they were feeling this way? To start, you may validate that their circumstances are hard for x, y, z reasons. Then, you may offer some encouragement by pointing out some of their strengths you’ve observed during the isolation period.
Another helpful way to practise self-compassion is to comfort your body and practise self-care. For example, you may eat something healthy, take a bath, go for a walk, or have a rest.
How can Peaceful Mind Psychology help if you’re experiencing the heightened levels of stress or anxiety?
Our team of Melbourne-based psychologists in Hawthorn and Armadale are experienced and skilled in helping individuals improve their wellbeing during the pandemic. We understand the struggles perpetuated by COVID-19, including the pressures placed on relationships, work/home stress and reduced self-efficacy, substance use, reduced self-confidence, depression, anxiety and eating difficulties, among many more struggles. Our psychologists can help you navigate these problems by utilising evidence-based therapies, such as Cognitive-behavioural Therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based therapies, to improve your wellbeing.