Will Covid-19 Ever End? How to respond to the endless variants and new restrictions that emerge

I recently heard a friend describe the emerging covid variants and the corresponding implications on daily life as “traumatic”. Since Trauma is defined as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster,” this labeling doesn’t land too far from reality. Regardless of how you view the way your governance is handling the crisis, many of us can agree that, as a society, we are braving wave after wave of an unseen threat. If you’re not concerned about the threat of disease, there is the threat of disruption to our day-to-day life in the form of quarantines, school closures and uncertainty regarding future plans.

During a traumatic season, it’s quite common to feel overwhelmed and a sense of hopelessness emerging.  Feelings of powerlessness that stem from a lack of control can cause lasting psychological effects for some individuals, resulting in feeling constantly on edge or feeling numb altogether.  The solution for this is multi-faceted and nuanced, but redeeming some element of control can provide one step toward psychological peace in the midst of crisis.

To regain some steady psychological footing, lets examine 3 areas we can control in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis: Mindset, Actions and Reactions.

  1. Mindset: Many of us have come to grow weary of even hearing the word “COVID”. A roll of the eyes and we are moving onto the next topic. It’s understandable to want to avoid things that make us feel uneasy, but ignoring our present reality requires more and more energy over time, leading us to feel more emotionally exhausted than if we just chose to face it, warts and all. We don’t have to like that COVID is causing disruption in our lives and communities, but we can mindfully acknowledge it’s disruptions. Humans often live in denial because of our subconscious sense that if we faced the intensity of reality, we’d be powerless to control or fix it. We believe that if we pretend something is not real, we won’t have to sit with our feelings of helplessness in the face of a crisis that is much larger than our capacity to control it. However, even though we can’t change the COVID pandemic on a broad scale, we can change our personal actions and reactions to it.
  2. Actions: We each have a measure of control in the midst of this crisis. Even when we were in complete lockdown, many of us had the choice to go for a (socially distanced) walk in our neighborhood or choose to sit in front of yet another episode on Netflix (no judgement). With Omicron spreading, there are new restrictions imposed upon us (again), but we still have the freedom to choose where we go and what we do within those restrictions. Don’t like a place that requires masks? Go somewhere that doesn’t, get take-out or order curbside service. For many of us, we have options. I’d be remiss here if I didn’t acknowledge the critical socioeconomic factors such as accessibility and affordability for those who don’t have the resources to “just choose plan B”. However, if we look closely enough, we can each find small areas of control we can maintain within the current climate. What small areas in your own life can you own in the next day or upcoming weeks? Personalize this to your domain of control, jot down a few things you can take ownership of, take a deep breath and watch how your sense of peace slowly increases.

3. Reactions: This is probably the area of COVID disruption that causes the most psychological and relational distress. We have been thrust into an environment where everyone’s actions feel so heavy. For many, it feels like the actions of our neighbor dramatically impact our safety and well-being. It is because of this sense of threat that we feel an overwhelming need to control others, whether through shaming, passive aggressive comments or genuine attempts to educate. However, just as we are in survival mode seeking to control others, those same people we are seeking to control are also in survival mode, and what constitutes their sense of safety may be markedly different than ours. A good rule of thumb is this: Next time, before jumping to a conclusion about how “ridiculously careful” or “blatantly reckless” someone is (in your eyes), remind yourself that people are simply doing the things that make sense to them. It’s highly unlikely they are acting AT you (as it sometimes feels). They are simply acting, the best they can, with the information and worldview they have at the current moment. If we take this approach and assume positive intent, we will become less offendable as a result of this crisis and our hearts may even soften a bit to a perspective different than our own.

Sure, we could spend this season arguing about how “right” we are and become increasingly bitter toward everyone with a different viewpoint. Or, we could emerge from the pandemic more gracious, becoming a person who seeks to understand before we demand to be understood. That choice is, in fact, ours to make.