As all the experts talk about the serious physical health risks of the Covid-19 pandemic, I want to talk about the equally serious risks to our mental health. The fact is that this pandemic is stirring up our deepest, most primordial fears around survival.
Every human being has these primal survival fears – of death, of being alone, of not having enough money, and of living in a dangerous world. Many of us in the West have been fortunate enough that we’ve rarely had to confront these fears, or if we have, we got to face them one at a time and not all together. But the covid-19 pandemic is unique in that it’s playing on every one of these primal survival fears simultaneously.
It’s impossible for us not to worry about our finances, as we wonder about how we’ll pay for the most basic necessities like food and housing in the coming months.
Those who’ve been living on minimum wage and who were surviving from paycheck to paycheck are now facing the prospect of hunger and homelessness; small business owners are teetering on the precipice of bankruptcy; even well-off retirees have lost the bulk of their savings in the recent stock market dive.
We’re terrified of becoming ill and of dying before our time and we’re frightened that our children, our parents, our siblings and our best friends will succumb. No-one is safe; no-one is immune. We worry about who’ll be left standing when all the dust has settled.
For many human beings, the worst possible fear is of being alone, isolated and disconnected from their community. With quarantines and social distancing, people are feeling the pain of loneliness and the fear of how they’ll cope with several more months of enforced separations.
At the most difficult times in history, the one thing we all had was each-other and we could come together and feel the support of our friends, family and community. Now we’re all holed up in our homes, unable to benefit from the soothing and renewing effects of togetherness. We agonize over not being able to see our family members and we wonder, even, if we’ll ever see them again.
And while we’re worrying about our financial survival, our physical survival and our social survival, we’re also consumed by a tremendous anticipatory anxiety over the survival of our society.
How unrecognizable will our world be when the pandemic has passed? Will we enter into a Great Depression that will rival the one of the late 1920’s? Will chaos reign in the streets? The number one new purchase in the US has been for guns. Will there be mass looting and violence? Will we revert to the Wild West, or worse? Nothing is certain, everything is up for grabs.
When we stop to think about it, it can be overwhelming. People are at risk of mental breakdowns, even mental collapse, and that’s exactly the reason why we need to face these fears and deal with them, or we might not make it through this incredibly challenging time.
So how do we cope with all the primal survival fears that are coming up for us, right now? First, we need to tap into the reserves of strength and resilience that we all have within us. We’re stronger than we think and we have the choice now to be strong or to crumble. I know which one I’m choosing.
Right now, more than ever, we need to recognize and capitalize on our interdependence. We really are in this together and we have to put aside our petty differences and be there for each-other. We need to ask for help and give help; we must offer each-other whatever we have to give.
And conversely, if we’ve been involved with any toxic people prior to the pandemic, this is a good time to sever the relationships that are anything less than supportive and uplifting. The last thing we need right now is to interact with someone hurtful or destructive who, through their unreasonable behavior, is making our anxiety worse.
And speaking of making things worse, when we try to deny our fears or distract ourselves by drinking to excess or drowning our fears in porn, the anxious feelings don’t go away. They just fester inside us, breeding ill health both mentally and physically. The fact is that avoidance behaviors only set us up for worse problems, down the road. For this reason, we have to stop avoiding and start dealing with the emotional impact of the pandemic.
We need to take advantage of the mental health resources in our community. Many therapists are now doing virtual sessions. Many mental health organizations are offering webinars and free resources to the community. There are a lot of videos and articles available right now that can help to put things in perspective and calm our fears.
We can lobby our local and federal governments to do more to help us, whether it’s through small business loans, tax deferrals, shelters for abused women, mental health hotlines for children or any other initiatives that will keep everyone’s head above the water. And we can vote in the upcoming US election for the party most likely to protect the interests of the working people.
And psychologically, we need to accept that these are terrifying times and stop beating ourselves up for feeling so vulnerable right now. It’s totally normal to feel this way.
Those primal fears of survival are no joke and when they’re all stirred up at the same time, it’s absolutely understandable that we’re anxious. We just don’t need to add insult to injury by criticizing ourselves for feeling the way we do.
It’s not a sign of weakness that we’re afraid; it’s a sign that we’re human. And accepting our vulnerability allows us to also tap into our inner strength. We become empowered to use this horrible situation as an opportunity for personal growth and evolution.
We can get through this unprecedented moment in history. It will require a considerable amount of sacrifice and a whole lot of courage, but when we acknowledge our fears and we support one-another, it’s possible to come out of it even stronger than we were before.