Waiting for the Worst—Coping with a Gradual Disaster
Times like these can feel like a slow car accident. You’re in a skid and you know the crash is coming, but it hasn’t arrived yet.
Reading the news and learning about the severity and extent of the disease—the number of deaths and the impact on the economy—can cause a state of extreme stress and anxiety. Then you go about your day, and you experience all the typical sounds of your house. You see cars going by as if nothing has changed. You run into people you know at the grocery store and chat about your kids and how your families are holding up. You stop and get gas on your way home. Even though circumstances are inexorably changed, so many aspects of our lives feel exactly the same.
The disaster is coming
In the backs of our minds, we know that an unprecedented disaster is coming. We are slowly starting our skid—we know we’ll eventually crash. We tense up emotionally. We have time to run through worst-case scenarios in our minds. We worry about the people in our lives that are at high risk. We face new and unanticipated challenges.
Ideally, when we experience worry and apprehension, we can see a path to resolve the problem. When the path isn’t clear, we still have these emotions, but we have to carry on without a way to process them, so they remain with us—disregarded and festering. Situations like this take a cumulative toll. These emotions continue to accumulate until we reach a breaking point. We’re filling the balloon till it pops. That breaking point can manifest in a variety of ways—none positive. We may have a breakdown, we may lash out irrationally at those around us, we may develop physical ailments.
How to cope with a gradual disaster
Even though it seems as if we have no outlets for processing these feelings, there are always options. Here are some things you can do to try to manage the way you’re feeling:
- Reflecting. It can be very easy to get caught up in the sense of panic during a crisis. Information is coming to us daily, if not hourly, and it may feel like we’re playing catch up. When we feel like this it’s important to take the time to reflect—to be mindful of what we’re thinking about and what we’re really worried about. Reflection is a key step toward identifying what we’re feeling and how it’s impacting us. It is a foundational step for the remainder of these approaches.
- Talking to someone. Talking through our emotional turmoil not only provides us with an outlet, but it can also help us to understand what we’re going through. The person we talk to might be a therapist (and should be for many people), but it also might be a friend or family member. We can also compare notes on how we’re coping, which can help from a practical perspective. Times of disaster are not a time to hold things in.
- Writing it down. If we don’t have opportunities to talk it out, or there are things we don’t feel comfortable sharing with others, another good outlet is writing about it. Like talking, putting our emotions into words helps us process them and understand them better. The format doesn’t really matter—it could be a journal, a letter to yourself, or a poem or song lyric. The important thing is to think through what we’re feeling and be honest in how we express it.
- Using creative outlets. Expressing ourselves creatively is an effective way to process our emotions. It may seem weird to create art in the midst of a crisis, but in times like these that creativity can be most beneficial. Putting our feelings into verse (or music or art) can help us to think about our emotional state and how it’s impacting us in a way that just talking about it can’t. It can help us understand the nuances of how we’re feeling.
- Exercising. Although exercise may not help us get to the details about what we’re feeling, it will help us work off our nervous energy. And if we are mindful of our thoughts during exercise, we can combine exercise with reflection, and it will become all the more valuable. It will also get us out into the sun and fresh air, both of which can improve our mood and our health.
It is definitely a scary time right now, but you are not helpless. Take the initiative and get ahead of your feelings. It may not fix anything, but it will make you feel better.