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Isolation and quarantine: What psychological phase are you in?

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Shutterstock | Yuganov Konstantin
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There’s a predictable emotional pattern most of us will follow during these difficult days.

This is a difficult time for everyone. Our routine has suddenly slowed down and completely changed, and those who haven’t been able to self-isolate are afraid of being infected by the coronavirus. We can’t treat this as an irrational fear — it’s a real fear that can’t be ignored.

Strategies of self-consolation (such as deep breathing and repeating over and over again that everything will be all right) often stop working as we get to know cases of people close to us who suffer from COVID-19, and may even be losing family and friends to it.

The news reminds us of this possibility constantly, and spending time at home makes our compulsion to consume information soar. Can we control our emotions during this time? And most importantly, how can we grow through these circumstance?

In order to understand our emotions, it’s fundamental to recognize the emotional stage in which we find ourselves.As a general rule, we can distinguish the following stages of assimilation to the new situation in which we are living:

1
Uncertainty/Denial

This is the first stage (which many will have already passed, but will still be in full force for others). It is the bewilderment provoked by the news and it makes us reject the truths that we’re hearing. We question everything they tell us. It seems unreal. We’re reluctant to stop frequenting our usual haunts: restaurants, shops, etc. As the restrictions on movement increase, we begin to enter the next stage.

Emotions typical of this phase: euphoria, anger, rebellion, nervousness, fear.

2
Adaptation/Acceptance

Our tendency to imitate others is beginning to take effect. This behavior is present in every human being, especially in the first stages of life when we imitate our parents in everything to learn about our environment. As we observe that all our neighbors and people in our close circles have chosen to respect self-isolation, we begin to accept the situation and adapt in the same way, by looking at how others do it.

Emotions typical of this phase: weariness (since the denial stage caused a lot of wear and tear), peaks of joy, hope (feeling that I’m not alone in this), feelings of belonging (seeing everyone doing the same things).

3
Resistance/Growth

The days go by, and seeing the sun outside while we have to stay indoors at home makes us nostalgic for our social life. We miss interacting with others. We begin to identify emotions that were buried by the thought that nothing would alter our rhythm of life. Sunday meals with the whole family aren’t a regular occurrence and we begin to value things that had previously gone unnoticed.

Emotions typical of this phase: nostalgia, melancholy, discouragement, and resignation.

Once we have grown from this experience—which will pass sooner or later—we’ll have to return to daily life with our new perspectives and lessons learned. Relief will be the first feeling that will flood us, along with fear at the thought that the same situation could be repeated. The financial situation—which will gradually recuperate—may make us afraid of consuming resources and money.

In time, our brain—an expert in survival—will choose to forget once again that the reality we know today can change completely from one day to the next. It’s a mechanism the brain uses to avoid living in a permanent state of alert that would waste all our energies worrying about problems that have not yet arrived.

Are we predetermined to feel this way?

It’s difficult to control our emotions through these phases in such an unusual situation. We do have control over our attitudes, however, becoming aware that our reactions to difficulties are indeed a choice:

The fear zone: In the face of fear, we hoard food and medicine that are not essential. We are irritable and attentive to the news every minute of the day. We make it a habit to complain, and we spread our negative emotions in our environment.

The learning zone: We halt our compulsive consumption, trusting that there will be resources for everyone. We try to identify our emotions, and find solutions to the conflicts that are within our reach. We choose how to act and organize our agenda so that we don’t waste our days.

The growth zone: We begin making resolutions to achieve some goals during this time. We think of others, looking for ways to help. We put our talents at the service of those in need. We promote gratitude and try to maintain a happy and hopeful emotional state. We relate to others and adapt to the new circumstances.

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