In every virtual therapy session I’ve had since the new coronavirus crisis upended my life, I’ve opened with some iteration of, “I don’t even know what to talk about today. I’m feeling 6 million different things.” Each new session, I bring with me the baggage of a week that felt like a year. How can I decide between talking about how lonely I feel in isolation and how stressed I am about my family and how guilty I feel about falling behind at work and how hopeless I feel about American politics and…well, you get the idea.
On top of my sheer amount of feelings, I also often find myself dissecting them: Is it normal that I’m feeling X? Does it make me a bad person to think Y? Luckily, my therapist always assures me not only that my feelings are valid, but that she’s hearing similar sentiments from other clients right now too. And though knowing my feelings are kind of universal doesn’t solve my problems, there is some comfort in knowing that other people are also going through it.
Because I didn’t want to keep that revelation confined to my own therapy sessions, I asked therapists and other mental health professionals (over the phone and via email) what feelings and worries are coming up a lot in their sessions with clients right now. If you’re dealing with any of the following emotional experiences, more people than you might think can probably relate—and it is 100% valid.
1. You’re burned out.
If you’re currently sheltering in place and not, say, working a demanding job as an essential worker, you might not have considered the possibility of burnout right now. But even for those of us in a relatively safe position, burnout is a natural consequence of the pandemic. “Burnout is the result of pouring more energy out than you’re taking in,” Ryan Howes, Ph.D., tells SELF.
Think about it: Every aspect of adjusting to a “new normal” demands energy from you, whether that’s the bandwidth you’re expending keeping up on the news or the weird learning curve of doing your job remotely. Meanwhile, so many of the ways we typically recharge are off the table right now: seeing friends, hitting up happy hour, going to the gym, or whatever self-care activity of yours that the pandemic has derailed. “There are so many more things draining us than things fortifying us right now,” says Howes. “That’s a recipe for burnout right there.”
2. You’re angry.
You probably don’t need me to tell you that there are a lot of things to be angry about right now, whether you’re frustrated at people who aren’t taking this seriously enough or have a lot of feelings about how the pandemic is being handled on a structural level. Therapists are hearing all this and more, especially from essential workers stuck in impossible situations without the support they need.
“While many know that they are needed as health care workers and want to serve, they may also feel anger [because] they do not have the proper equipment to safely do their job or resources for their clients,” Chante’ Gamby, L.C.S.W., tells SELF.
3. You’re…surprisingly calm.
With all this focus on looking after your mental health and coping with anxiety during the pandemic, it might feel weird to be doing, well, pretty okay. But according to multiple therapists I talked to, a sense of calm is a pretty common reaction. It might be out of avoidance or because the new coronavirus feels “out of sight, out of mind,” but it could also be a direct sign that you’re more equipped to deal with all this than you thought.
“I have found that clients who were dealing with major stressors beforehand or already in therapy for anxiety-related concerns are utilizing the skills they have learned to cope with the change,” LaQuista Erinna, L.C.S.W., tells SELF.
Similarly, your past experiences might have trained you to act calm in crisis. “Some of my clients are actually feeling an unexpected sense of ‘calm’ amid the chaos, which can sometimes be the result of adverse childhood experiences where clients have become accustomed to unstable environments,” Siobhan D. Flowers, Ph.D., tells SELF.
4. You’re spiraling about what might happen.
The uncertainty of the pandemic—and the long-term impact it will have on both a personal level and a larger scale—is one of the most common themes the therapists I talked to have come across in their work. That should come as no surprise to anyone going through a ton of anxiety right now; there is just so much we can’t predict.
“Anxiety rises due to the fear of the unknown, and right now, many things are not known,” Myisha Jackson, L.P.C., tells SELF. “I have been hearing people worrying about running out of food or supplies. People are afraid that they will lose their homes or cars due to being out of work.” The list goes on. The important part to remember is that most people are grappling with uncertainty right now, and it’s normal to feel terrified.
“We likely will not experience the long-term effects of COVID-19 for quite some time as we do not have a blueprint to follow for how this will all unfold,” says Flowers.
5. You’re struggling with working from home.
If your employer is piling on more work and meetings, leaving your work-life balance in the toilet, you’re not alone. Transitioning from a typical work setup to working from home has caused a lot of stress, angst, and frustration for a ton of people.
“Clients are tethered to their computers now more than ever, listening out for the ‘pings’ from email notifications and hurriedly responding to every inquiry, request, or assignment,” Gena Golden, L.C.S.W., tells SELF. “Some have noted fear and anxiety about taking breaks for lunch or restroom breaks for fear that their supervisor will reach out to them and they will not be there to respond within minutes.”
6. You’re mourning canceled events.
There’s no denying that the pandemic completely disrupted life as we know it, forcing a lot of people to miss out on experiences they’d been looking forward to for a long time. “Clients are mourning their important events such as birthdays, upcoming retirement, canceled wedding plans, and their children’s graduation,” says Erinna.
Same goes for important career events, proms, vacations, anniversaries, or anything that the new coronavirus has demolished in its path. A lot of people feel guilty for caring when these things can seem small in comparison to many other consequences of COVID-19, but don’t beat yourself up. It’s totally natural to be sad, angry, annoyed, and disappointed, no matter what else is going on.
7. You’re yo-yoing between hopefulness and hopelessness.
In the era of COVID-19, each new day can feel like a whole week because of how many updates, statistics, and stories there are to take in. A lot of people are getting some emotional whiplash, says Howes: “People are wondering, ‘Should I feel good or should I feel bad? Do I feel hopeful or hopeless?’”
There’s obviously no right answer—it’s natural to feel a bunch of things at once or in cycles, especially when so much is going on. But now might be a good time to remind you that staying super plugged in to the news can exacerbate this response (and a lot of other things on this list, at that), so maybe consider going easy on yourself and cutting back on your news consumption.
8. You’re craving a freaking hug.
If you feel this way, nope, you’re not the only one going out of your skin from lack of physical contact. Bianca Walker, L.P.C., tells SELF she’s hearing a lot from her clients about the importance of touch. “Yes, we can Zoom and Facetime, but there is something to be said for hugs and kisses, and even just being in close proximity to a person,” she says. “We are witnessing the importance of community and the power of…physical interaction in its absence.”
9. You’re stuck and unsure.
In a lot of ways, the pandemic is forcing us to stay frozen in time. If you had to hit pause on some aspect of your life—whether that was a job hunt, a new relationship, or a long-term goal—you might be wondering what the hell you’re supposed to do now. Even if the pandemic didn’t disrupt anything major, future planning can still feel off the table.
“Many of us are wanting to plan our summer, birthdays, weddings, et cetera, but feel stuck in not knowing what is to come,” Vernessa Roberts, L.M.F.T., tells SELF. “It creates this dreadful feeling of having nothing to look forward to because we are uncertain of what is coming.”
10. You’re guilty about your relative safety, security, or privilege.
Many therapists are hearing from people who are guilt-ridden about how their experiences and concerns compare to those who are more vulnerable to the negative impacts of the pandemic. “[I’ve seen] survivor’s guilt for those who have means and work roles that allow them to work remotely while family members, friends, or even folks they see on the news cannot,” Cicely Horsham-Brathwaite, Ph.D., tells SELF.
It’s natural for the things you’re grateful for—such as financial stability, the company of family or partners during isolation, or good health that makes you less at risk for serious complications—to be shadowed by an awareness that not everyone is in a similar position. Don’t beat yourself up for what you do have, and maybe ask yourself if you’re in a position to help others (which might have the added bonus of making you feel better too).
“I counsel people to cope within their reality and context while also helping them to think of ways they can be of service to others,” says Horsham-Brathwaite. “If they are open to doing so, that has meant giving financially, volunteering, praying for themselves and others, and of course managing their anxiety to support their well-being and allow them to be a source of emotional support to others.”
11. You’re deep in some existential regret.
A large-scale crisis like this naturally brings to the forefront some larger questions that might have you thinking about your past choices, experiences, and values. “[Some people] are examining how they may have ‘wasted’ their time suffering or ruminating over things that now have little value,” says Golden. That said, Golden is also seeing this have a positive side effect: “They are beginning to see new meaning in relationship bonds, social connection, family, and health,” she says.
12. You’re grieving.
And not necessarily in the traditional sense. While it’s true some people undoubtedly are dealing with the loss of loved ones to COVID-19, therapists are noticing grief in other ways too. Most people are grappling with some kind of loss, Howes says, whether that’s the loss of a job, your freedom, your feeling of safety, or your vision of how your life should be going. All of that can trigger a deep sense of grief, though many people don’t recognize it for what it is.
“People are wrestling with the various stages of grief and don’t know why they feel this way,” says Howes. “But you might be grieving the loss of many things in your life right now.”
There’s also a chance you’re grieving lives lost on a larger scale, even if you don’t know anyone personally. This can be true for anyone, but especially those in communities especially affected by COVID-19. “Among my clients who are people of color, particularly black and brown people, there is a sense of individual and collective grief given that recent reports indicate that such communities are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 due to structural inequality and discrimination,” says Horsham-Brathwaite.
13. You’re feeling inadequate about your productivity.
“One issue that I’m seeing is people feeling guilt about not being productive enough while at home in isolation,” Kaity Rodriguez, L.C.S.W., tells SELF. “From day one after lockdown orders, many clients felt that they were wasting time and failing miserably at the transition to working from home. There is also pressure to learn languages, take courses, master finances, and do all the things. Productivity porn is very loud right now.”
That noise can be difficult to drown out, so don’t feel bad if this is something you’re struggling with. “We live in a nation in which many of us are accustomed to engaging in activities centered around thriving,” says Rodriguez. “Unfortunately, much of that focus must be shifted to surviving right now. Be kind to yourself as we shift and refuse to be guilty for not being productive.”
14. You’re in over your head with your kids.
With schools shutting down and services like daycare out of commission, a lot of parents are struggling with the transition of having their kids at home full-time, especially if they still have to work. Not only does this situation come with a ton of added stress on a practical level, but there’s a good chance your emotions about it are hard to ignore too. “They feel as if they are not doing enough and are failing their kids and jobs as they are unable to balance it all,” Kimberly Lee-Okonya, L.C.S.W., tells SELF.
15. You’re dealing with a resurgence of unrelated past trauma.
If you find yourself suddenly consumed with thoughts and feelings about something from your past, you might feel caught off guard. But that’s actually our brains functioning as designed, Ryan M. Sheade, L.C.S.W., tells SELF. “Because our brains, and especially our fight-or-flight response, are set to remind us of danger in order to keep us safe, the pandemic is bringing everyone’s past traumas to the forefront.”
And as a reminder, this could apply to any number of experiences from the past, whether or not you consider it trauma. “Everyone has trauma, whether a big-T trauma of a single traumatic incident or the little-t traumas of consistent reminders in childhood that we weren’t good enough, or worthy of love, or that we were insignificant or unimportant,” says Sheade. So whatever is coming up for you right now, treat yourself with compassion.
16. You’re numb.
With everything going on, it might alarm you to wake up one day and realize you feel…nothing at all. That’s to be expected too. Even in the most chaotic of times, it’s impossible to be on emotional high alert 24/7. “I think of it in terms of adrenaline,” says Howes. “You can only have adrenaline coursing through your veins for so long until the body has to reset and simmer down.” Same goes for emotions, especially the longer this goes on.
17. You’re feeling something else entirely.
Truth be told, this list is only the tip of the iceberg of what therapists are hearing right now—and by extension, what people are feeling. If I covered it all, this article would be 10 times this length, minimum. From depression to boredom to intimacy to inadequacy to excitement, people are going through the whole spectrum of emotions right now. The point is, no matter what you feel each day, it is a valid response to this truly wild experience we’re all living through.
“It is important to understand that we are all dealing with this as a unit, but this unit is impacted in different ways,” says Roberts. “Remember that the impact this has on you is still valid and real. How you choose to spend this time is up to you and cannot be compared to how others are spending this time. May we remember to embrace our own feelings and struggles and show compassion for the feelings and struggles of others.”