Coping with a personal crisis amid a global crisis
Life is a series of ups and downs. We wouldn’t know happiness without experiencing pain, fear and heartbreak – it is the hard stuff that shapes us and reminds us that we are human.
There is never a good time to go through a personal crisis, but right now feels like a particularly bad time.
This unprecedented global situation means that our news feeds, conversations and thoughts are overwhelmed with coronavirus discussions, leaving little space for anything else. It is piling on the collective anxiety and has disrupted our lives beyond recognition.
So, what happens when something bad hits your life while the world is already being turned upside down? Whether it’s a death, the breakdown of a relationship, or any other form of heartbreak or tragedy – it is definitely a tough time to receive bad news.
Everyone is going through it right now. This can mean the usual support networks you would rely on in a time of crisis are otherwise engaged, or you may feel reluctant to share what’s going on for fear of being an additional burden.
It can also be hard to swallow narratives around how difficult everyone is finding isolation, when comparatively, you can feel like you’re the only one with a right to be sad or stressed at the moment – which isn’t necessarily fair, but your feelings aren’t always logical during severe emotional upheaval.
Diana* lost a family member in tragic circumstances just before lockdown was enforced. She says the whole situation has made it impossible to grieve in any kind of normal way, and she worries about it all hitting her after lockdown is over.
‘There’s a feeling that the grief is … not put on hold exactly, but put into limbo. It’s something that you know has happened, but you haven’t dealt with it in the normal ways,’ Diana said.
‘You haven’t been around family members, you haven’t had to live in a world without that person.
‘When I heard the news, we were already isolating, and then lockdown came into force. So, we couldn’t attend a funeral or be with the family.
‘Obviously you are still grieving. You have moments where you cry, you have moments where you mourn, but you haven’t had to engage in the reality of it. So it almost feels like you’ve got that grief coming for you after lockdown.’
Diana says lockdown has meant that she hasn’t told many people about what happened because she knows everyone has so much going on at the moment. She doesn’t want to add to other people’s stress.
‘Even the people I have confided in, it’s very easy for them to separate themselves from this as well,’ she adds. ‘Other than the cursory “sorry for your loss” messages, things drop off quite quickly, and I think that’s because they’re not seeing my grief, they’re not there to talk about it, and they have their own stuff to cope with too.’
Diana says it has been a real effort to force herself to not be upset by her friends being distant at this time. She’s also finding it hard to listen to other people’s stresses about lockdown, but she recognises that this reaction is a response to her own grief – which is manifesting as anger and a lack of patience.
‘I’ve noticed that I’ve been increasingly angry and finding it difficult to humour the “woe-is-me” people,’ says Diana. ‘Obviously I don’t know what other people are going through, but I have friends who are texting about having to cancel parties and worries about frivolous things.
‘Going through a loss at a time like this gives you a real sense of perspective. It gives you a glimpse of how bad it can be, and I am seeing the real suffering of my family members right now. So it’s very hard to cope with people who are telling me that they are bored or feeling low or worried about money.
‘All I feel right now, is very lucky. I’m here, I have a roof over my head, we’re eating good food, we’re finding moments of happiness – I know how horrific things can be, so I’m struggling to find the patience to listen to more superficial concerns.
‘I absolutely believe that there is nothing about this situation that is a competition. It’s not about saying this is worse for me because I’ve been through a loss. Everything is relative. But grief is making it harder to remember that at times.’
Ryan’s father passed away a few weeks ago. On top of that, he works as a self-employed musician and has recently had his mortgage application withdrawn because he is no longer earning enough money.
He says he’s trying to stay busy and keep his mind distracted with work, but he says dealing with grief right now is strange and unsettling.
‘It’s actually very bizarre because it almost feels like it never happened,’ Ryan said.
‘My relationship with my father was not typical and we weren’t particularly close as he was estranged for most of my life, but not having a proper funeral coupled with the fact that no one could meet with each other in person to discuss it, felt like there has been no closure.
‘I feel a bit overloaded with all the things happening in such important aspects of my life; family, work, health, that there doesn’t seem to be a proper way to deal with it.
‘No matter what happens though, life goes on, whether you’re ready for these things or not.’
Ryan says that he is able to take comfort in the fact that everyone is going through something right now. It can make him feel less alone in his pain and uncertainty.
‘Everyone deals with the lockdown differently and we are all susceptible to negative emotions in various degrees. Some cope well and others not,’ says Ryan.
‘I feel for people who do struggle with it. I can only hope that they are able to find some source of companionship to help ease their sadness.
‘The fact we are all isolated should bring a sense of camaraderie as we are all suffering the same circumstances, but it’s hard to bring it to the surface as it is a vicarious collectiveness that is hard to feel when you’re home alone.
‘For the moment, I feel like I have all the support I need with my family and my partner. I try to take strength in the people who are really up against it, looking after a family or losing their jobs – they have it harder.’
Coping with a personal crisis – such as bereavement, illness, relationship breakdown, divorce, and job loss – is stressful at the best of times, let alone during a global crisis.
Psychologist Dr Roberta Babb says the addition of the global dimension of coronavirus increases the felt experience and intensity of a personal crisis making it feel overwhelmingly emotional, stressful and relentless.
‘The pandemic is everywhere, and is currently dominating every aspect of lives,’ she explains. ‘It has also left many people with less physical and mental space, and the constant exposure to pandemic related stress can leave a person feeling out of control, socially lost and emotional.
‘We find we do not have access to many of the coping strategies we would usually use, and we are unable to participate in important and cultural/traditional rituals which mark a significant event. For example, attending funerals, moving out if a relationship breaks down, easily finding a new job, or even going to the gym or meeting up with friends for a meal or a drink.’
Dr Roberta adds that our heightened awareness of the pandemic and its impact is increasing our stress levels, and may even deter us from seeking help.
‘Someone going through a personal crisis may be aware that “everyone has problems” and they may not want to burden their friends or family with their difficulties,’ she explains.
‘They may perceive their friends and family’s needs as more important than theirs and refrain from sharing their pain in order to protect their loved ones.’
However, Roberta also thinks that the collective experience of the pandemic has led to some people becoming more caring, compassionate, empathetic and interested in the welfare of others.
‘This shift may mean that people who are experiencing a personal crisis may actually have access to more support than pre-pandemic which is a positive thing,’ she explains.
‘Although a personal crisis can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress responses, it can also lead to Post-Traumatic Growth Responses. Adversarial growth is linked to resilience. Resilience is not only the ability to cope with adverse life events, it also involves the ability to adapt to adverse life events and experiences.’
Roberta says that when you go through a personal crisis, your relationship with the world, people and what is important changes. She says adversity can help us to personally develop, improve our relationships, redefine our work-life balance and gain a new appreciation for what is important.
‘By looking after yourself, you can ensure that the personal crisis you have experienced has meaning and that you have more control,’ she adds.
Naomi separated from her husband a few weeks before Covid-19 changed life as we know it. The split was unexpected and she ended up quitting her job, leaving her home and changing location twice, with just a car-full of stuff to her name.
‘I’ve found that dealing with a personal crisis during a global one actually makes it easier to empathise with strangers,’ Naomi says.
‘Whenever I think someone’s being unreasonable or inconsiderate, I remind myself that they too could have something very difficult going on in their lives and we all need to cut each other some slack.
‘That said, there have been times when I’ve wanted to shout “You’re bored?! My whole world has fallen apart!” Nobody’s perfect.’
Naomi says that the hardest thing about being in this situation in the midst of lockdown is the limited opportunities to make new friends and meet new people at a time when she wants to be forging my new life.
‘But I am very fortunate to have some very good friends across the country and indeed the globe who have been a fantastic support throughout.
‘I do miss my cat though. Animals can be such a comfort.’
It’s important to remember that whatever you are feeling is valid. Whether you’re angry and upset, grateful and positive – or flipping between the two.
Emotions are heightened for everyone right now, but this lockdown will end, and the intensity of whatever you are feeling will fade and become bearable.
Strategies for coping with a crisis during the pandemic
Dr Roberta has offered her strategies for coping with a crisis during this uncertain time – which may be helpful for those of you going through emotional upheaval or heartbreak, on top of everything else.
It’s OK not to feel OK
It is important to recognise, acknowledge and validate your emotional responses to your personal crisis and give them the space and time they need. It is ok, not to feel ok.
With this in mind it is important to mourn for the losses you have experienced that both the personal crisis and pandemic have created.
Set goals and routines
During a personal crisis you can feel overwhelmed, anxious and depressed.
One way to help is to identify what you can control and what is outside your control. To do this, create a list of what needs to be completed, and identify which of the tasks can be attended to in the short, medium and longer term.
A routine can also be helpful.
Show yourself self-care and self-compassion
Compassion is the emotional response to perceived suffering and involves an authentic desire to help.
Although the terms are used interchangeably, there is a fundamental difference between the two which centres on thinking and doing.
Self-compassion relates to how you regard yourself compassionately, and self-care is how you may treat yourself compassionately.
Keep in touch with who you are
When a personal experiences a personal crisis it can shake them to the core, and they can lose touch with their sense of their identity – what makes them.
Doing things that are important to you, and which bring you some pleasure will be helpful, as it can help balance the numerous losses experienced with a personal crisis.
Connect with others
Personal crises can often leave us feeling distressed, alone and isolated from others. Due to coronavirus, the feelings of aloneness and isolation may be felt more intensely.
You may find it helpful to talk to people you trust about what is going on for you, in however, much detail you feel comfortable with.
The global crisis has made us more acutely aware that we are all experiencing this (to different degrees) together.
Sharing what is happening for you, and how you are feeling allows other people to care for, and help you. This expression of vulnerability within a relationship is a sign of strength, rather than a sign of weakness and can be invaluable for you and others.
Access meaningful support
Talking with others, virtually meeting with others, or reading about other people who are experiencing a similar crisis to you can be extremely important. It can help provide context, normalise responses and offer hope during a time which can feel quite hopeless and despairing.
Support may be accessed through online support groups, online video conferencing groups, forums, and telephone helplines.
The NHS website offers details about mental health helplines which anyone can access.
Seek professional help
There is not really any precedent for managing what you may be going through during a pandemic.
Speaking to a professional, such as a psychologist, psychotherapist or counsellor, may be helpful.
Having access to a neutral and protected space can give people the security and permission they need to share personally distressing things in a manner that focuses on and benefits them.