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Coronavirus Disease 2019

Feeling Stuck in the Moment?

Overthinking your COVID-19 life can be hazardous to your health and well-being.

I’m now into the sixth week of social distancing and stay-at-home restrictions, and I’m starting to feel stuck. Like only a few past global catastrophes, the COVID-19 pandemic is unique in the scale and depth of hardship it has brought to untold millions. No doubt like you, I didn’t fully appreciate the magnitude and longevity of its effects in those early days of March. I was hopeful and determined to do my part to “flatten the curve.” But the weeks of social restrictions are dragging on and the news about the virus, its toll on society, and the economic devastation it's caused is disheartening. My optimism for the next few months is slipping. Maybe I’m adjusting to this “new normal,” or am I getting “stuck in my COVID-19 moment”?

Christopher Campbell/Unsplash
Source: Christopher Campbell/Unsplash

What’s Your COVID-19 Story?

Everyone’s COVID-19 reality is different. The stress of social restriction is much greater for people living alone or with young children in an apartment in an urban “hot spot” than it is for people living in a large detached home in a rural or semi-rural region. Individuals with pre-existing medical conditions, the elderly, or those hospitalized by the virus experience a greater health threat than those younger and asymptomatic. Health care professionals, and those working in essential industries, must stare down the possibility of infection daily. Thousands have suffered the loss of a loved one to the virus and millions are now without work, facing grave economic hardship. Our COVID-19 realities are different in so many ways, and yet, we all have one thing in common. Everyone has experienced a sudden, unexpected, and drastic change in daily living, which has shaken our feeling of security and threatened our quality of life. Few people are enthusiastic about this moment in time. We all long for a return to our former freedoms and social connections.

Am I Stuck in the Moment?

You might be wondering if you’ve become stuck in your COVID-19 moment. Here are some warning signs to look for.

  1. Distorted time perspective: Does it feel like your present reality will never end? Of course, this is a feeling because the passage of time always brings change. We don’t know the future, but one thing is certain; it won’t be the same as today. When we’re stuck in the moment, we forget this truth. Instead, we think about time differently, as if what we experience today will continue indefinitely.
  2. Negative expectation of the future: What do you think your daily life will be like this summer or fall? If you can’t imagine a future with more freedom and opportunity then you may be stuck in the moment. In more extreme cases, a sense of despair and hopelessness can settle in, which might indicate the beginning of a serious depression.
  3. Preoccupation with the present: Is your mind dominated with thoughts about the coronavirus and its impact? Are you spending hours on pandemic-related news, updates, stories, and information? Are most conversations dominated by the pandemic and its effects? If so, this COVID-19 preoccupation will nurture a fixation with the moment as if nothing else matters. The present will feel more threatening and uncertain, and you’ll sense greater personal vulnerability. All of this contributes to higher levels of anxiety and worry.
  4. Social withdrawal and loss of interest: Have you noticed that you’re less intentional in maintaining virtual connections with family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers? Have you lost interest in hobbies, exercise, or other meaningful activities? If so, this could be another indicator of being stuck in the moment.

Free Yourself from the Moment

There are several things you can do to free yourself from this COVID-19 reality.

  1. Reconnect and express: If you are withdrawing and isolating yourself, reconnect with friends and loved ones. Be intentional and reach out to your social network. Talk to your partner, family member, or close friend about your feelings and then listen to their way of thinking about the future. How are they thinking and living their daily life that enables them to avoid getting stuck?
  2. Limit your intake of COVID-19 news: It’s important to stay informed but your day should not be dominated with news about the pandemic. Large stretches of your day should be free of COVID-19 information. Broaden your conversation to topics and issues other than the pandemic and its negative impact. This will help refresh your mind and help prevent getting stuck in a coronavirus rut.
  3. Make the most of today: What are you accomplishing in this unusual time in which we live? Everyone is experiencing a break from the routine, which provides unique opportunities to deepen relationships, develop new interests, or accomplish tasks that would never get done in our normal day. By making the most of a difficult circumstance, it will feel like you’re rising above the unique challenges of the moment.
  4. Dare to daydream: Hope is fuel for the human spirit. If you’ve experienced loss, economic hardship, or extreme stress because of the virus, it will be hard to muster hope for a better tomorrow. But spending time thinking and even planning for a return to some semblance of your pre-COVID life will counter a tendency to get stuck in the present. Engage in mind wandering, where you imagine once again doing past activities you enjoyed, renewing valued relationships, and going back to favorite places.

We all have a COVID-19 story to tell. Are you getting stuck in the moment, feeling defeated and demoralized by the circumstances of the day? If so, you can loosen the grip of this COVID-19 moment by identifying the problem and taking corrective measures.

More from David A. Clark Ph.D.
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