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Coping with Pandemic Panic


Written Exclusively for It's Over Easy by Dr. Danielle Delaney, Th.D.

Since early in 2020 when the pandemic hit the world, most of our brains have been on overload. There is so much new information to process and the things we all must do in our efforts to try to stay safe and sane can be exhausting.

Simply bringing in take-out food is fraught with new guidelines, our work lives have changed, and many of us are coping with the grief of lost loved ones due to this virus.

Parents in most parts of the country, who can remain at home during the pandemic also have to trisect their focus to manage homeschooling, run the household and try to make a living. 

Add to this a tense racial and political climate, and we have a collective panic as we reach for common ground, understanding, and some certainty in life.

Life Doesn't Pause for The Pandemic

Being in recovery, going through a traditional or an online divorce, or some other major life stage transition during the global health crisis may have you feeling like there is a “piling on” of painful situations. You may even feel that there is no relief in sight.

This is when it helps tremendously to know when to say “uncle” or “give"--as the little kids used to say - in surrender. Surrender to the fact that you cannot do all things, and that you may likely need to reach for support.

Personally, I realized it was all hitting me immensely one day as I loaded my dishwasher with tears in my eyes and dropped a dish and started crying.

The news on my television that day was on a repeating, endless loop of the George Floyd murder and the image of this man crying out and being coldly, horrifically killed before my very eyes was tortuous to watch, and I was overcome with pain and a deep, deep sadness.

Adding to that moment was the fact that we were (and sadly still are) in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic event. Thousands of people dying from the coronavirus and too many individuals being murdered by the police who are sworn to protect the peace, and protect the community from harm.

I simply couldn’t take the sadness anymore and the tears flowed freely. I sat down. I sobbed and called a dear friend, another woman of color who feels it on the same level when these repeated and brutal murders occur. So often, the victim looks like family.

It is heartbreaking to see over and over, and resonates on a deep ancestral level. Generations of suffering that obviously continues to this very day in the United States. My friend listened and cried with me, and some of the burden of my pain, grief and anger was lifted.

Unburdening Feelings

Counseling and therapy involve a very similar sort of unburdening of one’s feelings. In times such as these in which we are living, it is invaluable.

My job in counseling involves being compassionate and empathetic, listening to clients and guiding them gently toward their own revelations.  I cannot divulge anything major currently going on in my own life.

Some clients have read my book, or have done internet searches, and know some things about my past and my work life. But they don’t know my present personal relationships, or very much about my own emotions at the present time, nor should they.

There are times when I have to call a personal friend or a counselor myself to feel understood and heard and cared about. There are hours or days that I must take time off to process everything that is occurring in our world, as well as needing to process the therapeutic sessions that fill my days. Not doing so would be detrimental to my work as well as to my own well-being.

Doubling Down on Our Own Wellness

Time to use that endless compassion, usually extended to others, for myself. I can definitely feel when its time for a “time out” - and I encourage others to know when to “say when” as well. It can all get to be far too much, and better to address the panic and pain and turmoil than to allow it to fester and affect other areas of our lives in negative ways.

Buried feelings have a way of coming out sideways, resurfacing when we least expect them or causing us illness and depression, which is anger turned inward.

While coping with addiction & recovery, healing from any type of trauma, or the trauma of a divorce, the compassion you need to show to yourself should be your number one priority.

There are multiple ways to treat yourself with kindness and nurture yourself. Find ways outside of your norm to get some fresh air and some time to yourself.

If ordinarily that would be the gym and the gyms are closed due to the virus, switch to a brisk walk or an exercise class online or on DVD/video.

It’s also a good time to pay attention to what you’re ingesting and to attempt to make healthy choices to keep yourself feeling your personal best. After all, the peer pressure of going out is almost non-existent, so it’s more possible than ever to stick with healthy foods at home.

What’s healthy for each person varies, so choose what suits you and makes you feel your best. If you have the means, this is a perfect time to try a meal service or to work with a nutritionist on your habits.

Pay Attention to Yourself

That social attention that you usually give to others...if you’re solo, give that attention to yourself by reading, resting, catching up on a hobby that you normally eschew for the company of others that you can’t see right now.

If you have children, other live-in family, or a partner or housemates, use this time to get to know one another on deeper levels, in conversation, in play, and in time spent together.

If you work daily, double down on forcing yourself to take small breaks. You need to shift gears with fresh air or some movement in order to keep your mind sharp, and a few moments not working won’t cause the world to collapse and can be rejuvenating. You’ll be more effective when you return to your work tasks.

“Outsource“ what you can in your life, if you can afford to do so. Your brain is doing calisthenics that it simply isn’t used to doing. It’s winded and overworked. I knew it when something so simple was my own error, such as putting ice cream in a cabinet and not discovering it for a few days. Normally, small tasks are automatically done the right way. Now, our brains are just overloaded.

You may have dealt with loss, trauma, grief or fear of the unknown in your lifetime, but it is unlikely that you’ve coped with those things all at once! Welcome to 2021. On top of this, things are changing rapidly and we have new information to process daily including the coronavirus vaccine.

The Emotional Bandwidth Equation

You need all the help you can get. Even the most resilient among us is suffering. I call it The Emotional Bandwidth Equation.

High Emotion plus System Overload = Disaster! Where you once had “fully charged” power and strong WiFi to have all the “apps” in your brain open at once while also playing music and using GPS at the same time, NOW the device that is YOU is overwhelmed, sending error messages, and wants to force quit. But cannot.

You have responsibilities and others counting on you! So you push forward...and this is how we have a personal system crash.

Please know that it is a strength not a weakness to say “uncle” in these difficult times.

Life as we know it is very, very different. We have yet to reach that part of grieving that is called Acceptance. We don’t even know what kind of future we are allowing permission to occur - so how can we accept it? The tabs in our minds are open…searching for answers. Give it time. They will come.

Additionally, some clients are dealing with things that were not an issue in our work pre-pandemic. Some have a rape trauma history, and being “busy” is their usual trauma response, yet now while out of work or working from home, the pain of the trauma and the memories are resurfacing.

Some are in recovery from substance abuse, and their daily battle is fighting a relapse. Many people are shelving plans, and having to face a completely different reality from what they had assumed would happen next. Some are in the midst of a divorce, and the pandemic has changed court dates or visitation agreements. The tensions are palpable, and risks are high.

The Next Pandemic is The Mental Health Crisis

For me as a practitioner, this time has shown me that I may need to simplify and streamline my practice as things get busier and may continue to do so, as the next pandemic is certainly the looming mental health crisis.

The trauma of going to sleep in one world and waking up in another hasn’t fully resonated with many at this point. The repercussions can last for years.

This isn’t even to mention the deaths that tons of us are processing. The images are a lot, but the loss of our loved ones is overwhelming. While hearing others’ trauma a clinician has to shelve the fact that we, too, are coping with emotions and adjusting and surviving a pandemic.

In the past seven months I’ve done hundreds of therapy sessions while having just mourned a loss. I've attended a Zoom funeral for a loved one, executed the planing of a Zoom engagement party and attended the Zoom wedding for a sibling; watched one of the dearest and closest people to me suffer the loss of a parent, and watched my parents lose loved ones and endure the loneliness of being elderly and alone during this crisis.

In counseling, other’s problems do consume your hour, and the next hours as well...we see many clients in a day’s time, and sometimes hear from them later as well, plus we do billing, scheduling and notes. Normally, everything is manageable - but it’s a different ballgame during this time.

I’ve had to carve out times and spaces that are just strictly for my own healing and refueling, more so than ever before. I have to be vigilant about nurturing myself and talking to someone about what I’m also living through, or I can’t effectively help anyone else.

My moods, relationship, health and personal life are not up for any amount of real discussion during my day. My patients are my priority, and COVID-19 is the common denominator. 

Whether I’m dealing with clients who live in Italy or Tel Aviv or locally, the coronavirus is the background music behind every story, the backdrop of every scene playing out in each and every life. I can only offer small reassurances since in this case, I don’t know what’s going to happen, either. It begs the question: why did we think we ever did?

I appreciate the constant opportunities to be of service, and to continue to work doing what I love, more than I can express. While I also carry the sadness of knowing that so many others cannot make a living right now, I believe that what those of us in the mental health and wellness space, and specialists in addiction & recovery are offering is indeed essential . We are offering a soft place to land, an ear to listen to the fears and to everything else that is washing up from this sea of uncertainty to provide some clarity and a sense of routine, structure, wellness and relief.

It’s a priceless refuge, just as it’s a priceless privilege to be let in so intimately to the lives of others. It’s a responsibility, and one that we take very seriously.

Resolve to reach out for help when you need it. Those of us here to offer that support want to be there for you. You don't have to go though all of this transition and this new experience alone.

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About the Author Dr. Danielle Delaney

Dr. Danielle Delaney, Th. D. is the award-winning author of Expect Delays: How to Reclaim Your Life, Light, and Soul After Trauma. She is a Certified Crisis Interventionist, a specialist in Recovery Aftercare and Life Stage Transitions, and is a Spiritual Counselor. She also specializes in the area of Adults Molested as Children, Rape Crisis, and LGBT issues. The Los Angeles Office of Protocol has hailed Danielle as “a proven asset to the City and County of Los Angeles.” Danielle maintains her private practice in Hollywood, California and she can be found listed in Psychology Today. She is a frequent contributor to magazines such as InRecovery and Keys to Recovery, and has made numerous appearances on RadioMD, Rewired Radio and various other shows. To contact her or to learn more about her practice, her book or her radio show The Real Deal With Danielle Delaney, please visit her profile in The Index, or her website Danielle Delaney Counseling.

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