In times of a crisis, people see things more clearly
8 minutes read
Marieta Gecheva is a psychologist, who works both with individual clients and in organisations that offer psycho-social services and aim to improve our social environment. Her professional experience includes dealing with abuse and trauma cases, helping during child adoption process. She also works on the creation and implementation of psychosocial programs for people in risk groups and she participates in the training, development and support of the professionals providing social services.; в по-широк аспект: създаване и прилагане на психосоциални програми за хора от уязвими групи (и не само), обучение, развиване и подкрепа за специалисти от помагащите професии.
We have been living in a pandemic situation for over a year. What do you observe from March 2020 in the psyche of your clients? Are there any changes?
During the last year my clients have been through a lot of anxiety, fear, depression, irritability, helplessness. At the same time I see them actively confronting their problems and decisively taking steps that have been delayed for a long time before. I witness some sadness, now that they are facing long neglected issues. But the crisis comes as an additional stimulus for making decisions that can help them get through this hard period, without losing themselves.
How is the isolation affecting the families?
Of course each family has its own dynamics and daily rituals, that are affected in a different way by the isolation. Most of the people, with few exceptions, also manage to find a way to avoid, or at least diminish, the isolation by outside meeting, video or phone calls. What helps most in this situation is the sharing of our experiences, especially the negative ones. It is much more important that we manage to talk about our fear, anger, despair, boredom, sadness, and absurd moments, than saying “everything is going to be OK”. Because we all know it is not going to be OK. The situation is different and we are totally unaware what will happen and how much will this last. When we talk over the negative aspects of the situation, we realise more clearly what we are facing and this helps us accept it and live through it.
At the beginning of the state of emergency, many people acted chaotically, which is normal, given that no one was prepared for such a thing. We all went through a period of adaptation - from losing a job and looking for alternative ways to earn money, to allocating space at home, allocating electronic devices among family members, working time and rest time, getting used to the regime of going out and spending time. time outside. Then comes a calmer period, in which we are already used to some things, we have worked out ways to deal with others, we have not accepted others - and this is normal.
What changed in people’s professional roles and processes?
In fact, nothing so much - specialists are specialists, and clients - clients. The way of communication has changed. Perhaps the specialists felt more uncomfortable with the different way of communication, than the fact that the home became a workplace and your professional life takes place in your personal space. But in the end, the personal and the professional are formed and separated in our consciousness and the way we think about them, and not specifically in the physical environment. All boundaries - personal and professional - are in our consciousness and from there we regulate them.
What has happened to children in the last year? How do they experience this crisis?
It is not easy for the children either. They too are missing the personal contact, the time spent in school, the normal “buzz” of life, the excitement, the fuss and the face-to-face meetings with their friends. Just like us - the adults, kids replace all these with online communication, and they may even be better than us in that, but they still really miss the real life. I am not going to comment on the problems with staring at a screen for a long time and leading a highly sedentary lifestyle that affect both children and adults that work remotely.
Fear makes us overly anxious, very restrictive and this is what affects children.
However, there are children that are disproportionately affected, by the way the adults around them react to the situation. Imagine a 15 year old teenager, studying remotely, who has a very limited time to communicate with his/her friends, because on the one hand, the parents are worried about the time spent in front of the different electronic devices and, on the other hand, they are worried about the time spent outside in physical contacts with other kids, as an old relative from a Covid risk group is living in the same household. Our fear makes us become concerned, limiting, anxious, offensive and accusatory. This inevitably is reflected by our children and they also become anxious, depressed and irritable.
There has been talk of an increase in domestic violence over the past year. Does the COVID-19 crisis have anything to do with it?
Ye, another thing that came out as a prominent topic in this situation is the domestic violence. This is a problem that affects everyone globally. At the very beginning of the lockdowns concerns about the rising number of domestic violence cases have been raised. This was described as a consequence of the social isolation, which had led to violence escalation and made it harder to reach out for help. However, we should not deceive ourselves that the pandemic increases the extent of domestic violence. It just becomes more visible now, though it may seem paradoxical when we all live a life behind closed doors. Normally we have our job, contacts, and other distractions that create an illusion that the problems are not that serious and will pass. When we lose this distracting noise though, we see much more clearly the things we have previously tried so hard to ignore. Thus much more incidents have been noticed now. The crisis itself may lead to additional tension and negative reactions between people, but domestic violence has existed in serious size even before the pandemic, because our society accepts it, tolerates it and even excuses it and this is truly frightening.
How do individuals deal with the crisis?
Each of us deals with the crisis in our own way and pace, based on our capacity. Now, though, the difference is that we have a crisis on two levels. First, there is the social level, which affects all of us, the connections among us and our environment -- we now have to think and behave differently, though we are still in the same physical space. The second level is the personal one, which affects our inner fears -- what fear will any of us have to overcome, will we deny its existence or will we change our behaviour. Dealing with this situation requires that we consciously reflect on and manage our behaviour: what am I doing? Why am I doing this? Am I scared? Angry? What do I need to do to feel less anxious? How can I do it?
In the current situation we often plan our everyday life differently. It takes more effort to do things that have come much more naturally before like meeting a friend, visiting someone’s house, going to the In the current situation we often plan our everyday life differently. It takes more effort to do things that have come much more naturally before like meeting a friend, visiting someone’s house, going to the theater or even taking a walk in the park. It is important that each person looks for and finds what makes him/her feel peaceful and secure. Most often these are eternal things like music, books, time spent in nature, or things we have often overlooked in our previous everyday life like dedicating more time to our close ones, our children and friends.
Do you think that the generation living through this crisis is experiencing a collective trauma?
The current situation obviously creates a shared trauma. When something affect so many people, every day, regardless of the continent and the country, we have massively shared experiences and shared trauma. And we have a traumatic reaction - we are lost, anxious, helpless, insecure, frightened, irritable. We are looking for an explanation. The shared trauma now is not affecting one country, one ethnicity or a specific group of people. Unlike previous historic events, that have affected only a certain region or ethnicity, the current pandemic “unites” us all.
When we lose this distracting noise though, we see much more clearly the things we have previously tried so hard to ignore.
I am curious what will be the narrative about these processes in 3 years for example. How are we going to talk about this, what will our memories be, what will the future generation learn from us about this period. Will this be perceived as a time of losses, deprivation and suffering, or as a time of rethinking the value of human life, the care about the people and rearranging of the social order.
Was our attitude towards death changed?
People have always been afraid of death and this has not changed. The important question now is how we deal with the loss of our belated loved ones. And again, the answer is that we deal with this in different ways. The inner experience of everybody is different, but there is also a shared experience on a cultural level. Death makes us all silent, we do not talk about the pain, we stand still and quiet. In our culture it is not common to talk about the loss, the anger related to this loss, the helplessness. Death makes us horrified, numb, frightened and subdued. But actually death is an inevitable part of everyone’s life. Sooner or later, we all lose a loved one due to illness, old age or an accident and then we have to talk. We have to be able to express the loss, the pain, the feeling once the person is gone. For a certain time our own life also stops, we become more aware of the transience, the vanity and what is unimportant.
We are already talking and working with the so-called post-covid syndrome in people who have gone through the virus. Can you say something about that?
These are symptoms associated with chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, heaviness in the chest, difficulty in physical activity for several months after the illness. As far as I know, we still do not have definite data on the long-term consequences of coronavirus infection, but more and more talk, describe and systematize post-viral fatigue syndrome - muscle and joint pain, chronic fatigue, headache, dizziness, memory problems and sleep. My friends, who contracted the infection two or three months ago, are currently experiencing similar symptoms.
There is something else - because coronavirus infection is also a potentially life-threatening condition, people who have had it may experience some kind of post-traumatic symptoms as a result of the stress they have experienced due to the disease. These may be disturbances that occur as a result of a strong fear of a possible lethal outcome, may manifest as increased anxiety after the period of illness, re-experiencing the most difficult moments of the illness and the fears associated with them, there may also be physical symptoms such as palpitations, dizziness, sleep disturbances, irritability. These are normal reactions and they go away.
What is happening with the physical human contact and closeness?
I hope that we are now re-evaluating the connection between people. When something becomes scarce, we get to know how important it is for us. Even though it may sound like a cliche, I hope we will start to appreciate more what connects us. . The life of human beings is meaningful when they have enough quality interactions with the other human beings. Everyone needs to be seen, recognized and accepted by the others
Any reaction, including the neglect of the security measures, that aims to overturn this psychological condition is normal.
Of course we also need to spend some time alone, but the current social isolation may start to get on your nerves, even if you are the biggest introvert. Though this may sound a little like a joke, I mean it seriously. The social distancing measures; the masks that hide two thirds of the face, so we cannot see the expression of the person in front of us, while at the same time we cannot fully express our own emotions; the replacement of the face-to-face contact with face-to-screen one; the lack of positive stimuli of the cinema, the theatre or other bigger people’s gatherings and events; not meeting new people — all this leaves us in a social deprivation. We do not get enough stimuli from our social environment and we may lose orientation about our own and other people’s emotions and behaviour. This may lead to apathy and lack of desire to live. Any reaction, including the neglect of the security measures, that aims to overturn this psychological condition is normal. Such reactions aim to preserve the human psyche and to prevent an inadequate and painful functioning.
What is your forecast about the development of our mental health and the crisis for the next 10 years?
I am not able to predict how this pandemic will change the world. Everything is too dynamic and it would be an illusion to think we may foresee what will happen in the next 10 years. The psychological health of the people will depend on their environment and the quality of the interaction with the others. Usually the crises pass and a calmer and more predictable period comes after that. We cannot say if the period will be better or worse, but it will be different. Even only because during the crisis we have started to think in a different way about the space we live in and because of the losses we have endured.
The interview with Marieta Gecheva is part of my project "How we live now?", which explores the psychological consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and presents the professionals from the frontline of the soul. Read more.
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Autor: Vera Gotseva
Vera Gotseva is a journalist, photographer, photography educator and author of the project "How we live now?", documenting our psyche and inner experiences in the COVID-19 pandemic.