Reflection in the time of quarantine

Getting to know yourself

Written by Jennifer Hanson

It’s safe to say nobody alive has experienced anything on the scale of this current pandemic. Mankind has made countless leaps and bounds throughout the last century, but now we’re stuck in our homes without much idea of how this will play out. It’s important during this time to remember that quarantine does not have to feel awful at every turn. Some valuable guidance on how to work through stress is helpful in dealing with the array of emotions that are inevitable while social distancing. Here’s a crash course on how to self-analyze and deal with these feelings.

1. Increase self-awareness

The key to so many different facets of success in life, self-awareness can help with achieving fitness and nutrition goals,1 doing well in school, successful interpersonal relationships2 and performance-related stress (both in work and sex).3 It has also been shown to ease psychological distress and is a goal of self-actualization.4 One important facet of self-awareness is mindfulness, which is especially key for having an open attitude and staying present5 and for mitigating stress in relationships.6 Being emotionally connected is a large part of self-awareness, and can help with both self-confidence and anxiety reduction.

Quarantine is the best time to get to know this deeper part of yourself. Knowing yourself in this way will help you deal with any daily mental troubles that present themselves. The first concept to keep in mind when self-analyzing is impartiality. Self-analysis can initially result in negative emotions, but if you stay impartial you will minimize the chance that guilt will color your thinking. While guilt serves important functions (like reinforcing concern, respect and positive treatment of others, as well as redistributing emotional distress7) it’s not ideal to hold on to it while analyzing your feelings. Spiraling into negative emotions is what this process aims to avoid, and you need to understand the process going on in your head before feeling it. Focus on what you consider to be absolutely true or false and go from there.

It can be helpful during this process to zoom out (no, not the teleconference program) of the current situation and familiarize yourself with everything going on. Examine the hard truths, the personalized problems, all of the facets that make quarantine an intense experience worthy of these feelings. Look at them like a spreadsheet and try to understand your emotions without directly feeling them. Allow yourself to see that things may not be great right now, but it’s reasonable to feel the way you’re feeling in light of all of it.

Once you have a handle on the big picture, delve deeper, ask yourself exactly what you’re feeling at this moment. You can navigate this in your own mind or by writing it down, whichever process helps you the most. Once you arrive at a specific problem, ask yourself why you’re feeling upset. Sometimes the answer could be as simple as not leaving the house in a week, or it might be something deep you’ve never considered. Being honest with yourself is crucial if you’re going to get to know yourself thoroughly during quarantine. The truth will set you free and you might find that you understand yourself or others better than you ever have.

2. Eliminate stress

As anyone can probably tell you, stress can be incredibly intrusive. Stress has been shown to negatively impact memory function,8 addiction,9 immune system function, allergic reaction10 and cancer incidence and survival.11 Stress also takes a toll cumulatively on the economy since it is to blame for a large portion of disability.12 Stress can impact your life in so many unseen ways, so it’s vital to get a handle on it early in quarantine.

There have probably been days that you’re totally fine with life in quarantine. Maybe you’re able to work from home or you’re not super affected by anxiety compared to some others. However, there have probably also been some days that you feel like you’re falling apart. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed especially if these feelings are compounded by grief or the anxiety of caring for loved ones. Sometimes taking a minute can do a world of good to help yourself.

Take some deep breaths to quiet your mind, or practice some routine self-care. Whether or not you’ve felt overwhelmed, panicked or depressed before quarantine, acknowledge that you’re entitled to feel what you’re feeling. Ask yourself if you’re hydrated and fed and if there’s anything you can do to immediately help yourself to relax. While it might be tempting to wallow in it, try to remind yourself that dwelling doesn’t solve anything and edge yourself towards doing something productive about it. This process of self-awareness makes it easier to spot why ruminating in problems is intrusive, and will hopefully allow you to gain more control over your negative emotions.13 It might not be right this moment that you can bring yourself through what you’re feeling, but the focus is to keep going and get through it eventually.

Ask yourself if this feeling was triggered by something else and why you feel the way you do. Recognize how to help yourself next time. Most importantly, don’t judge yourself for these reactions! Everyone is in a similar state of fluctuating anxiety and panic during quarantine and you can apologize if you have to skip out on a meeting or FaceTime appointment.

Sometimes feeling through things is incredibly difficult but learning from these moments is worth the struggle. The more you pick out these moments and mitigate them, the easier it will be to work through them or ask others for help when you get stuck.

3. (Try to) Let go

Talking about feelings is something that doesn’t come easy for most people. Who wants to show their vulnerable side, especially during quarantine? But while it isn’t easy, sometimes reaching out is exactly what you need to feel better.

Strange times call for stranger methods. Crying when you’re sad or screaming into a pillow when you’re angry are healthy ways to get your feelings out. Your emotions will show themselves anyway, so it’s better to get them out in a healthy way than have them barge out unexpectedly. Some people like to talk their feelings out with a trusted family member, friend or therapist. Others like to work through them alone in private. It’s important to figure out which type of person you are so that you can have the freedom to express your emotions in a way that works for you.

After you understand where your feelings are coming from and you have validated that they are understandable, the ultimate step is to get them out in a healthy way. Everyone has experienced the loss of plans, close family connections, birthdays and important life events because of quarantine. It’s no wonder that so many people are struggling to grieve these losses. Allowing yourself to feel this pain is tough, but you will feel lighter when you’re done.

If you’re not the type to go in for big displays of emotion, remember that lightening your load doesn’t always have to mean crying it out. It can also mean not taking certain things as seriously and prioritizing your life in a different way. This experience is going to change everyone in some way and maybe this is the beginning of your change. Let go of any petty dramas or issues that aren’t important anymore. If it’s not affecting your daily life like quarantine is, it probably isn’t worth worrying about in the same way. Unburden yourself however you deem necessary and move forward only with what is important.

Quarantine is giving us a rare glimpse of what it’s like to live in the moment and to work on our resilience. Feeling and loving your way through it won’t just make your experience optimal, it’ll help everyone around you as well. Offer yourself and others the reassurance that’s commonly lacking and you might have a chance at the peace that feels so scarce right now.


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