By: Yeşim Türköz, PhD
Even though we have various fight and flight skills to survive and protect ourselves in the face of many lifelong dangers we are not prepared to face with a global and sudden threat meanwhile. Throughout history there have been outbreaks of disease that are very difficult to prevent and cause major deaths such as plague, cholera, tuberculosis. However, these have often been frightening during the period of occurrence which have had gradually decreasing aftereffects. Since medical advances, drugs and vaccines have eliminated people's fear of such diseases over time the need for strict preventive action does not develop.
Human being is forgetful and prone to denial. This may be one of the consequences of the individual's trust-based early relationship with the world which results in the illusion of being special. Since every surviving person has a care taker, long-term protector and home, one tends to feel safe and believe that he will always be protected. This feeling can evolve from time to time to the feeling being privileged and superior to others.
We humans, despite having death awareness do not live on alert like most animals and do not enrich our self-protection repertoire. On the contrary, as the comfort and security of modern life increases, we begin to see the world as our own property and tend to spread by expanding our borders thoroughly. So what wakes us from this dream can only be a sudden global threat. Why sudden? Because slow-developing global threats are not strong enough to worry us for a long period of time. Which of the threats such as global warming, environmental pollution, destruction of natural resources, chemicals, radiation raise, wars and violence occupy simultaneously all the world taking precautions for days? Which of these can make us feel "equally" threatened as all people in the world in a single day? Even if slow-acting and regional or periodic threats are global, the impact they have awakened is not global. That's why these are the times when we all wake up from this great dream.
When the Corona virus first appeared in China, some westerners developed a racist approach to the issue. There have been even those who have seen themselves as privileged, saying that the virus causes disease in Asian societies. I think this is more of a western person's illusion of privileged self perception rather than science's misconception. As a matter of fact at this point today, the Corona virus shows how egalitarian it is regardless of race, ethnic characteristics, gender and the level of sophistication of society and how it will treat us all the same. Even if it is difficult we have to accept this fact and our time-space limits on the earth. While the virus takes us out of social life in order to send home with all our plans and consumption habits it is symbolically hindering our spread on the earth.
Let's say we understand these things, learn from what we're going through and we manage to protect ourselves. Will that make us feel better? Or are we going to feel worse and worse in the days of isolation?
FEELING GOOD AT HOME DURING THE ISOLATION PERIOD
In the usual living conditions, home is our secure base but in some cases it can become just walls that restrict our freedom and limit our lives. That's the possibility for those who stay home today.
So what negative feelings may be waiting for us during this period?
ANXIETY and PANIC
We are all concerned about our own health and well-being of the family members, relatives and friends. What we need to make sure that everyone is healthy. We can't meet this need because not everyone has been tested, so we don't have clear information about our current health. Uncertainty is a condition that triggers anxiety and causes speculations. Unless the situation becomes clear we can produce scenarios in our heads and move away from realism by getting caught up in negative imaginations. This could easily cause us to be panicked. For example, some signs such as a small throat itching, a sneezing of one of the family members, headaches which normally do not occupy us may be perceived as signs of disease and make us develop additional symptoms because of panic. For example, heart beats accelerate, respiratory frequency increases and we can be horrified by thinking we're short of breath. Or we can start listening to ourselves all the time, often turn to controls such as blood pressure, pulse, fever and these can be our new rituals. Panic and horror seizures are symptoms of anxiety disorders that people can always experience. Feeling as if having a heart attack, dying or fainting is the most common fear in people with panic disorders. However, under normal circumstances, the person who lives them can apply to the nearest emergency room to carry out the necessary examinations and calm down for a while when he is sure he is healthy. Unfortunately, hospitals and emergency services are not accessible during our time and even if they are reached there is a risk of contamination, the person has to be able to calm his anxiety without leaving his home.
What Can We Do?
First, let's remind ourselves that everyone around us has a certain level of anxiety and that we are not alone in this regard. Emotional commonalities even though emotions are negative is healing for people. You can embody your anxiety by saying it and share it with someone close to you without turning it into delusion, i.e. without projecting a situation that doesn't exist. For example, instead of expressing your concern as a delusion that "we will all be sick and there will be no one to look after us," put it into the phrase "I’m afraid of possible troubles in the care of children if I am sick." These are common concerns, and if you embody them you can prioritize and take precautions. Also be careful to limit your concerns to the current situation. For example, such a concern like "my child's education has been disrupted so she will not be able to rank next year" is extreme and exceeds the limits of the current situation.
It is not enough to verbalize and share your concerns although it is important. Because there may be concerns that you don't tell anyone for some reasons. Embody all your concerns one by one and preferably write them down. But that's not enough too.
You can try to develop some precautions for each of your realistic concerns. For example to identify who will take care of the children, to make new arrangements at home, redefining the roles within the family, to give children new responsibilities in case one or both parents get sick. If possible, create a large family network or social network and make social contracts against emergency situations by determining who to apply for what, who can meet what kind of needs.
The existing balances of daily life make us feel good. Habits and daily routines are part of these balances. The deterioration of our existing balance and order of life creates disorientation and causes anxiety. It would be good to create a new balance and make a new arrangement instead of the broken one. Make the days different from each other, i.e. working day, cleaning day, shopping and cooking day, resting day... Also to specify work, sleep, and meal times, to divide the day into periods (hygiene and cleaning time, creating shopping lists, meeting the needs of elders and juniors and sharing roles among family members for all of this) can help with this new order.
Calming Exercises and Activities
Anxiety is a human specific emotion which is different from fear. Fear is a functional and innate emotion for survival common to all animals arising in the presence of danger or risk . It occurs in a state of danger and decreases spontaneously when danger or risk is eliminated. On the other hand anxiety is a human-specific, psychic existential feeling and does not always act depending on a real danger. For example, even if he has no physical illnesses, the person may experience anxiety of being ill. Different from fear, anxiety, as independent from danger is unlikely to diminish after the dangerous situation passes. For this reason, person has to calm down himself/herself. The ability of appeasing own negative feelings is learned early in the mother-baby relationship. At the beginning every time the baby cries, the mother soothes her and then this ability is gradually introjected by the child. For example, when the child falls and stands up she tries to soothe herself by saying "didn't hurt". Or even she becomes upset immediately after her mom’s leaving home she can stay with another trusty adult and tries to cope with this separation through playing games. Since we have already developed that ability let's not forget that we can appease ourselves if we want to. Depending on your habits and personal preferences, you can use relaxation exercises, yoga or meditation, appropriate sports activities, puzzles, mental activities such as chess, interactive games, crafts, housework and cooking, singing, listening to music, reading or writing as actions of transition from anxious emotional state to calm mood. However do not take them as calming activities only.
Revealing and using our potential creativity will make us feel good and sustain during these days. The power that allows us to use our creativity is spontaneity. J.L. Moreno, founder of psychodrama, describes spontaneity as a new response to an old situation or an appropriate response to a new situation, saying it is the catalyst for creativity. I define spontaneity as an ability to be creative at the moment and give the most convenient response to the here and now context.
While it is clear that we are not potent for everything, some of us try to feel strong by dominating, controlling and possessing. Yet creativity in limited circumstances is one of the healthiest ways to feel strong. In this period when we can't do what we want or even give up some of our existing assets, doing creative activities instead of focusing on deprivations enables us to develop our intrinsic power resources. Therefore the pursuits described above as self-cooping transition activities are also your creative actions. You can make one or two of these activities continuous and acquire permanent hobbies or revive your old sleeping interests. You can also try to approach the ü distress experienced by your relatives empathetically, suggest creative solutions, to make creative plans for the future, to produce things at home you used to buy from outside before.
Interpersonal Bonds and Inner Contacts
Interpersonal bonds are one of the most basic needs of life. Perhaps our biggest deprivation in this period of social isolation is our social bonds. However social isolation restricts physical proximity not intimacy. Thanks to our mental and emotional maintenance skills, we can continue to keep connection with each other even in physical distance. That's what we learn in childhood. In early infancy, things that are not in front of our eyes are supposed to be "disappeared" because they cannot be represented in our minds. Since a baby does not have a capacity to contain his mother on his mind and soothe himself by feeling her existence inside, the mother must be tangible. If the baby needs his mother when she is absent, he can not be able to be in peace until his mother appears. However, after mental representations of relationships begin to form along with brain development, appreciation of "distant intimate" and its emotional tolerance also develops. Although nothing replaces face-to-face communication and close contact, this deprivation does not weaken the bonds within us. It doesn't hurt the relationship except that it creates a sense of longing. If you wish, you can do the following work I recommend during this period:
Social Atom is one of the techniques which is suitable to both individual and group works. We apply it as a pen and paper work with individuals as well as an action technique on a stage in our psychodrama groups. To describe it briefly, you will visualize your social network according to your own perception of inner intimacy.
Take a pen and a piece of paper and draw a small circle on the middle of the paper. Write your own name in this circle. Then draw several circles around the first one as if drawing a dart board. While the inner circle represents you, the other ones surrounding it forms your social network. Beginning from the first circle to the outermost one, place the significant others in your life according to the degree of intimacy you feel by typing a name for each one. Important others can be family, friends, relatives, your cat, your dog, your teacher, your leader, your houseworker, in short, everyone.
This work represents not your physical but the inner social network. For example even you see and touch your colleague sitting next to you at work every day, you can place an old friend who lives in Canada and whom you have not seen for five years on a closer circle because of the intimacy you feel and the strength of the connection between you. Once you've made your social atom, you can take one step back and overview it, review your bonds, and decide what you need. Maybe you make some changes on it. You may need to strengthen some bonds further and draw those people into closer circles. And you can put away those ones who have been placed on an inner circle but you don’t feel so strong intimacy in between. Or you can realize that there are people in the inner circles that you have not been concerned enough and you need to do something for them. According to all these awareness, you can arrange the boundaries and distances in relationships.
Social atom is both enjoyable and nourishing sociometric technique. It opens many doors inside us and gives the opportunity to deepen our inner explorations.
GUILT AND SADNESS
If there is someone around us who has the disease, we may experience guilt as well as anxiety and fear, accuse ourselves of being careless and being a carrier or not being able to adequately protect our relatives. Sometimes even if there's a truth to it most of the time one feels guilty because he thinks he's able to control everything. But there are many variables in life that we can't control. Or sometimes we make mistakes and cause really negative consequences. Instead of sticking to our guilt feeling, even it is true to a certain extent It is best to take adequate precautions, helping those who need, protecting others and ourselves and taking appropriate actions required by the situation.
Sadness is a very humane feeling. Because of our social sensitivity and interpersonal bonds we are saddened by unfortunate situations. It is upsetting that there are many people in the world and around the country who have lost their lives, that everyone cannot be protected equally. But sometimes there are moments when we feel happy and cheerful despite all this, which can create a sense of guilt also. This feeling is also an indicator of sensitivity and compassion pointing out the fact that in the flow of life there is room for all emotions for a human being.
ANGER AND DESPERATION
Following the first stressful days, other strong emotions are expected to emerge as long as physical isolation continues. Shrinkage of our living space, restriction of freedom, deprivations, missed opportunities and the possibilities we begin to lose can evoke feelings of anger and desperation due to frustration.
The lower the threshold of frustration tolerance the more prone to a sense of anger and desperation. When there are certain sources of anger, one can turn to blaming, reacting or aggression. Howewer when there is no single source of anger or can't find the real address, it becomes a free floating feeling and you never know where it will come out. Both cases involve danger and require action without delay.
If anger is only at the level of emotion and it doesn't turn into action it's a good sign. You can share your feelings with your relatives, exchange the ideas, you can review and try to change your perspective by empathizing with your antagonists. Physical exercises can also help to relieve from the negative energy generated by anger and get relaxed. The matter is to make sure that you can manage this strong feeling, that is you can brake and calm down when you want to. Every healthy individual is capable of doing this.
On the other hand, social or global traumas are also periods when behavioral control mechanisms are weakened and aggression increases. If your anger bothers you and your environment and you're having trouble controlling it, you should definitely get a professional help.
As a result we have to keep in mind that we are facing a worldwide problem and that all people can be exposed to such difficult feelings simultaneously we should maintain contact with each other and ourselves.
Social distancing restricts physical proximity not intimacy.
Yeşim Türköz, PhD
Clinical Psychologist/ Psychotherapist/
Psychodrama Therapist and Trainer
Günışığı Psychotherapy Center and Psychodrama Institute