People’s emotional response to the pandemic is changing. We are now at the depression and anger phases. In this chat we look at what we can learn from people with acquired physical disabilities about emotional phases during trauma, and what you can do about it.
Show Notes: For those who prefer to read rather than watch
Today we’re going to be looking at the next phases of emotional response to the pandemic.
But first, we need to take a tiny step back because over Easter I was contacted by some people asking how do I know this stuff about people and their feelings? So, I need to tell you a little bit about my history.
My original degree was in Psychology and Workplace Relations (and the History and Philosophy of Science – but that’s a whole other story).
For the first 20 years of my career, I worked primarily in human resources where I identified the potential of individuals and teams, and helped those individuals and teams to reach their fullest potential, whether that be through leadership development or change management.
After one organisational change too many, my career path changed trajectory, and I started doing the same thing but in a slightly different format. I now help individuals and businesses identify their potential and realise their potential through copywriting and through websites.
So, it’s the same thing, just slightly different tools – which is why I know this stuff.
Onto today’s chat! Today we’re talking about the next phases of emotional response, and it’s a continuation of the things that we’ve been talking about for the last fortnight.
So, in the last fortnight, we’ve talked about people having strong emotional responses through things like being In the Grip. We’ve talked about why people are having trouble making decisions and that they’re going to procrastination mode.
We’ve also talked about decision fatigue, and we’ve talked about why people are reaching for carbs and why they can’t work out why they’re doing that.
We covered early emotional responses, and we covered exhaustion – we talked about why people are exhausted all the time.
The Phases of Emotional Response to a Pandemic
What I’ve seen over Easter is that people are now moving into the next phase of emotional response. So, what is the next phase?
One of the things that we do when looking at people’s emotional response to situations is to look for different models to help our understanding.
There’s an interesting series of models based on people who’ve acquired a physical disability such as spinal cord injuries, and the emotional changes they go through as they come to grips with their physical disability.
What researchers have found is that people who’ve got an acquired physical disability go through emotional responses in response to the changes in the situation around them.
They go through responses to situations like social isolation because they can now no longer just pop down to the shops or visit someone or have dinner with people. They have to think and plan. It takes a lot to consider. They’ve got to do the logistics. There’s a lot of thinking going on, trying to figure out what, and they can go out and see people.
There are employment impacts on their life, and so the person with an acquired disability can potentially not work or lose their work, or they might become under-employed.
Does any of this sound sort of like what we’re going through now? We’ve got similar social isolation, and many of us have an employment impact. So those societal impacts are similar to what a person with an acquired physical disability goes through.
The researchers say that what happens for a person who goes through an acquired physical disability is that they go through eight emotional phases.
The first phase is shock. Then they go through anxiousness, and then they go through denial.
Does this sound like what we went through? We all went through a shocked period of, “Oh my goodness, what about this pandemic?”
We then had an anxious response, which is when we all hoarded toilet paper and pasta. We then went through denial. “Oh, it’s only just like the flu – nothing to be afraid of. We can deal with it. I can go out. I’ll be fine.”
What we saw in the last few weeks is everyone was going through phases, one, two, three.
The next phases are what’s kicking in now, and what researchers say happens next emotionally in people with an acquired physical disability is that they then go into possibly depression, internalised anger and externalised anger.
Ultimately, they move on to acknowledgement and adjustment.
Now a person with an acquired physical disability doesn’t just go through these emotional stages at a nice linear fashion – moving from one to the other. They can jump between levels. They can get stuck at a level, but ultimately, they move on to acknowledgement and adjustment.
What are we seeing in people during the pandemic?
We talked before about depression during the Coronavirus Pandemic. Right now, is the depression danger time for a lot of people. We are seeing a lot of people disengaging with their colleagues. They are feeling, “What’s the point.” They are apathetic, and we’re seeing a lot of people staying in pyjamas all day every day and not looking after themselves. They’re spiralling into depression.
So right now, it’s even more critical than ever for you to check on your colleagues and your friends. Make sure that you reach out to them and do not be someone’s last straw. Right now, you want to be people’s beacon and not someone’s last straw by a thoughtless comment or action.
Reach out and support others because people are hitting that depression cycle right now.
We also see internalised anger. What is internalised anger? It’s repressed anger, anger that you don’t express outwardly, and you deal with inwardly.
Some of the things that we see with internalised anger are that people can become extremely busy, and they can’t sit still. They always have to be doing something, and that’s one of the ways that they avoid dealing with their emotional response.
We also see some people feeling slightly numb. They’re not depressed, they’re just slightly numb. They’re not themselves, but they are not happy, and they’re not sad – but the emotional highs and lows are chopped off.
We are seeing other people becoming more sarcastic and very bitey with their humour. They just think it’s being themselves, but their sarcasm’s actually very hurtful to a lot of people.
We’re seeing a lot of self-sabotage happening.
We’re seeing a lot of people finding that little things get on their goat and aggravate them. It could be that the toys are left on the floor or people not putting their shopping supermarket trolleys away.
We are seeing a lot of anger about people not keeping 2 metres away in the shops.
We see fatigue, which is linked to the exhaustion thing we’ve talked about.
We see an increase in addictive behaviours such as overeating, drinking too much and gambling. Gambling online has skyrocketed at the moment, and that’s possibly because of internalised anger.
We are also seeing some people go very, very quiet, They think, “Yeah, I’m fine, I’m fine” and then they explode like a rocket, and then drop back to “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.”
We also see other people who are the peace, love and mung beans people who are permanently wonderful and happy. OK, let’s talk about that. No one is ever peaceful and happy all the time. This is also another behaviour that is showing that you’ve probably got some repressed anger happening inside you.
We’re also starting to see a lot of externalised anger kicking through. So, we see a lot more yelling. We see domestic violence on the increase, but we also see a lot more yelling in families.
We see a lot more picking of faults in people. I’m on a local community page, and I saw someone saying, “Oh, you know, I went up to someone in the supermarket cause there was a mother and a father and their children and how dare they shop with all four of them. I can understand if it was a single mother, but how dare they all shop. So, I told them off and I told them they should have only have one person shopping.” That’s externalised anger.
Another example from the local community page: Someone had decided to be the local Easter bunny and was going to pop on the back of the Ute and drive along a number of streets and wave to all the local kids. Lovely concept. But someone with externalised anger stated. “No. You can’t do that. That’s unnecessary travel. I’m going to report you!” So that person was stuck in the externalised anger phase.
We see a lot of xenophobia starting to kick in, which is racist behaviours and we’re seeing a lot of people starting to yell at people of Asian origin or Asian appearance.
We’re seeing in other countries that people are blaming the Muslims for Coronavirus. Other countries are blaming people from the United States, and the United States is blaming the Chinese. We see a lot of xenophobic behaviours starting to kick up.
The whole thing with racist and xenophobic behaviours is you need to tread on them early; otherwise, it explodes like a fire keg.
We also see a lot of conspiracy theories starting to circulate, and I’ll talk tomorrow just about conspiracy theories. Still, the conspiracy theories are starting to take off and which is causing some interesting behaviours starting to kick on with them.
All these behaviours are because people are in their externalised anger phase.
Recapping – we are seeing depression, internal anger and external anger right now.
What do you do about this phase?
With depression if you’re finding that you’ve got an absence of meaning or you’re apathetic, or you’re feeling bored right now, you need to find, go back and reconnect with your bigger purpose.
Go back and reconnect with why you are here. What difference can you make in this world?
You’ve also got to do self-care. You’ve got to do ridiculous amounts of self-care right now: So, eating correctly, being gentle on yourself and exercising.
If you find yourself spiralling down a dark emotional path and you can’t come out of the dark place, talk to your local medical practitioner and talk with one of the counselling services. (Linda Conyard is brilliant.)
What happens if you’re in the angry phase – the internalised anger or externalised anger?
Anger shifts with movement, so this is where you find on YouTube some Bollywood dance classes or exercise videos or belly dancing classes. Belly dancing is excellent to move stuck anger.
Go for walks – have multiple walks if you need to help clear things.
If you’re stuck at home, pile the pillows on your bed and cut a bit off your hose and then belt the crap out of your pillows. It gets rid of the dust mites as well as clearing anger.
If you’re really, really angry, find some plates that deserve to die and stand over your bin and smash them into the bin. Don’t smash them anywhere else. You want them to fall into the bin but smash the crap out of these plates. Get rid of the stuck anger.
Again, if you’re finding that your anger is becoming a danger to yourself or danger to other people, talk to a counsellor to try and assist you because anger can is extremely destructive.
If you catch yourself and you’ve been angry, this is where you need to try and minimise and repair the damage that you might’ve caused for your words or your actions.
Or at least just be aware that this is what happened to you, that you’re going through a phase of anger. This is not the time to beat yourself up or hairshirt yourself and do the guilt thing. It’s about self-compassion and saying, “OK. I’m going through an angry phase. How can I prevent that from happening again? And how can I apologise to people that I might’ve hurt in the process? How do I make remedy?”
The good part is you’re close to the end of this emotional process. Once you get through this anger phase, you move onto acknowledgement and adjustment. And that’s where all the gifts of this experience are.
When you talk to people with acquired physical disabilities, they quite often will tell you that that next phase is where they found amazing gems of in themselves or they found amazing gems in their situation.
So that’s where we’re moving to. We want to move into the acknowledgement and adjustment phase, but right now, you and all the people around you are on the depression, internalised anger or the externalised anger phase and we will be there for a little bit.
Some people may get stuck there, and we’d prefer it if they don’t. But we will be seeing a lot more of that in, around us and in, around, in the society around us over the next couple of weeks. So tread carefully and manage your own process with compassion.