Emotional responses to COVID19

These past… weeks COVID19 has shocked the world in all senses. I live in London and I am Spanish (my family and many friends are in Spain – mainly Madrid). This article is closer to the experience / testimony of people in those countries.

The unexpected super challenging situation we are in is testing our resilience, mental health and ability to reinvent ourselves as never before.

Some ways people are… responding to the situation: fear, panic, anxiety, anguish, fear of death, fear of bankruptcy, fear of going mad, end of the world.

Let’s analyse each of these psychic responses using psychoanalysis as a tool to read through them:

FEAR: it is the emotional response when we are in danger. In this case… unfortunately it is not clear if that danger is… real or not. According to some pieces of news COVID19 is a very dangerous virus however, scientific studies (at least what we know for now) explain that COVID19 is dangerous for people with other health problems and people over 70’s. All in all, people with a weakened inmune system. The fact that we know the external factor which triggers the fear can lead to anguish. Remember, anguish (to an extent) is something necessary, it protects us from danger. Having a bit of anguish protects us from suffering post traumatic stress disorder. The problem is when we have too much anguish, to the point that we panic. When we feel it in the body.

According to Freud, human beings are led by their unconscious desires. Unconscious mind never stops, it always shows up. Remember, when we studied the dreams, we saw how the unconscious mind works: it uses diurnal rests, situations and events which happen during the day to express itself. Unfortunately, the current climate can negatively impact our psychic apparatus and our imagination can… “fly free” led by anxiety and catastrophist thoughts. However, each person can have a different response to the… same situation.

Why is that? What type of response have I observed?

People who were depressed BEFORE COVID19: They tend to be extremely pessimistic, suffer from catastrophist thoughts: phantasy of death and end of the world. People who are not depressed, don’t suffer from these fears, fantasies. Depression leads to phantasies of death and catastrophe. Fantasizing about own death is a clear sign of depression (the person already suffers from depression or is beginning to develop it). You are going to be shocked but… fantasizing about the end of humanity or collective death shows jealousy: It is difficult to accept that… once we die, humanity will continue. Without us. Unconsciously, this happens to everybody: we can’t tolerate that… one day we will die and life will continue for many others. We would like to live for ever and the world to end with us. It is also true that the situation will create many and serious financial problems (specially in Spain), sadly some business will be forced to close. However, it is also true that some people will use this situation as an excuse to close a business which… before COVID19 was already not doing well.

Anxiety: unfortunately… the current situation can create more anxiety to people who were ALREADY anxious and trigger it in those who were “fine”. Why is that? There is what we call the status of “anguish wait” . There is always (even in people who don’t suffer form anxiety, remember we all need to learn to deal with anguish) a quantum of anguish, freely floating which can get attached to any idea at any time. The current situation makes it “very easy” to rationalise our anxiety. “It is normal I am anxious, people are dying because we don’t have enough medical resources”or… “We don’t know what will happen.” However, in normal circumstances, that same person would probably be anxious anyway. Healthy individuals would be a bit concerned but in people with anxiety disorder that status of anguish wait is exaggerated, sometimes even described as an obsession. Remember, the reason why we experience anxiety is because we can not manage uncertainty. After all, in life… we never know what is going to happen next! We ALL need to learn how to deal with uncertainty to move forward in life. Now, that skill, that need is MORE EVIDENT than even before.

Obsessive- compulsive disorder: For people with OCD and some types of anxiety, being constantly told to wash their hands can be especially difficult to hear…. the advice about hand washing can be a huge trigger for people who have “recovered”. Specially if the treatment they received addressed… the symptoms (washing over and over again their hands) but not the conflict that triggered those symptoms (CBT approach). OCD is the disease of guilt and ambivalence affection. People who suffer from OCD tend to have “very high moral standards”, this is why washing their hands over and over again is a typical ritual, obsession in that disorder. When they are washing their hands, they are trying to wash… something else.

How can we then protect our mental health in this situation? Best thing to do would be to talk to a psychoanalyst, at least from time to time. However, I understand how difficult it is still for people to do that so, here you have some tips to help you cope the situation:

First of all, follow the guidance of the authorities to be safe and help others be also safe. Be careful with what you read. There is a lot of misinformation swirling around – stay informed by sticking to trusted sources of information. I know is difficult. In the UK, maybe try the government and NHS websites. Limit the amount of time you spend reading or watching things which aren’t making you feel better. Perhaps decide on a specific time to check in with the news (for example in the morning). Only read things which help you put in place an action plan to make you feel better

Situation is difficult but temporary. Nothing lasts for ever! Try to keep a routine as much as possible, keep doing things. There is so much we can do and we normally don’t have the chance! If you are having therapy use your session to cope with the obstacles which does not allow you to grow. Now more than ever is important to hold tightly to life, to commitments… we will go through this and come out stronger if we don’t abandon ourselves to fear and frustration.

According to Freud, healthy human beings are those capable of loving and… working! It is down to you. Neurotic individuals take any chance to scape to their fantasies and find excuses not to do things. Don’t blame COVID19! Healthy individuals are those who… knowing reality, accept it and are capable to transform it.

At the moment, I know situation in Spain for many people is dramatic… Death of a loved one is always difficult and not being able to say goodbye, makes it even harder… In the coming days, I will try to talk about how to deal with this unique and unusual losses some of us will have to face.

Good luck everybody! We will be fine. Keep going!