Emotional effects of a pandemic: How to move forward with optimism

Follow these 4 steps to process the losses and look for silver linings after COVID-19

Life after the pandemic is something we’re all anticipating. Have you stopped to think about how you’ll move forward with optimism from the emotional effects of the pandemic? Many of us have experienced strong feelings at various stages, including grief, stress, frustration, nervousness, anxiety, anger, isolation and insomnia. “Taking time to reflect is an important step in helping you take stock of what you’ve lost, realize what you’ve gained, and to look ahead with purpose and hope,” says Dr. Heather Palmer, Amica’s Cognitive Well-Being Advisor.

Amica specialists designed this step-by-step program to help residents, families and team members process pandemic feelings and experiences and move forward with their dreams and goals. At Amica, the program includes face-to-face guided sessions, virtual sessions for families and fireside chats for team members. We’re sharing these important steps in recovery to create hope as we transition through and beyond COVID-19.

Shot of a happy senior couple going for a walk in the park

Step 1: Identify your current emotional stage

Just like a GPS needs to identify your current location before sharing directions to your destination, to process your emotions, it helps to find out where you are in your COVID-19 mental health journey. You can do this by writing about your current emotional stage in a journal or opening a dialogue with a friend or family member.

Be honest about your pandemic feelings without judging yourself. Research shows there can be negative physical, psychological and relationship consequences to bottling up your emotions. Expressing their experiences wasn’t easy for Amica residents and families, yet these exercises and conversations are helping people come to terms with their journey so they can continue to look ahead with hope. 

Which emotional state describes you?

You’re thriving: You’ve got this. You’re calm and steady with minor mood fluctuations. You’re able to take things in stride and adjust to changes of plans. You’re able to focus, communicate effectively, and your sleep and appetite are normal for you.

If you see yourself in the following descriptions, you might consider reaching out for support from your doctor. No one should have to feel like every day they’re just getting by, struggling or in a crisis.

You’re surviving: Something isn’t quite right. You might feel nervous, sad or notice increased fluctuations in your mood. You’re more easily irritated or overwhelmed. You have difficulty adjusting to changes and feel an increased need for control.

Activities or relationships you once enjoyed are less interesting or even stressful. You’re having trouble sleeping or eating, and might be having muscle tension, low energy or headaches.

You’re struggling: You feel like you can’t keep this up. You’re in a persistent state of fear, anxiety, anger, sadness or hopelessness, and you feel exhausted. You’re having trouble making decisions or concentrating. You’re restless

when you try to sleep. You might be self-medicating with alcohol or food, or other activities to try to numb yourself from your discomfort.

You’re in crisis: You feel like you can’t survive this. You’re in distress, having trouble functioning and may be experiencing panic attacks, nightmares, difficulty falling or staying asleep. You’re easily enraged or aggressive. You might be withdrawing from relationships and depending on substances or food or numbing activities.

Step 2: Identify grief and loss

During this step, identify the negative impacts of the pandemic on you and your life. What milestones or moments have you missed? Many Amica residents found it especially heartbreaking not to see their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. One hadn’t seen some of her children in person for at least 18 months. 

Questions to ask about grief and loss

   Yes, definitely  Yes, somewhat  No, not really  No, not at all  Not sure
Has COVID-19 had a negative impact on your life?
Did COVID-19 cause you any losses this past year (i.e. personal, social, financial)?          
Has there been a change in your interest or ability to do pre-COVID activities?          

A few resources for coping during challenging times

Step 3: Identify silver linings

Now that you’ve explored all the negative ways the pandemic may have affected your life, it’s important to acknowledge some positive ones, no matter how small they may seem. Amica residents have been vaccinated, so many expressed gratitude for this extra measure of safety on top of comprehensive protocols at every Amica senior living residence. A few agreed that keeping in touch with family has helped them get much better at using technology. Many gained peace of mind from the opportunity to get themselves and their visiting family members vaccinated early. Several got back into old hobbies like knitting, painting, journaling, connecting with old friends, while others took up writing poetry or a musical instrument.

Residents who lost spouses (unrelated to COVID-19) in the past year found it difficult not to gather with family for a traditional funeral or celebration of life. Yet they appreciated that a virtual experience meant many people were able to join from around the world, creating strong bonds despite the distance.

Questions to find the positives

   Yes, definitely  Yes, somewhat  No, not really  No, not at all  Not sure
Can you think of some positive changes COVID-19 has brought to your life?          
During the pandemic, did you find a new hobby, learn a new skill or develop a
renewed appreciation for friends/family/staff?
Do you feel stronger and more resilient having gone through COVID?          

Resources for looking on the bright side

Step 4: Start moving forward

As restrictions lift and it’s safe to return to gatherings and activities, think about what you’re looking forward to and make a list of your hopes, dreams and goals. What do you want to accomplish? As important, how do you want to feel? Many residents are looking forward to hugging their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, born during the pandemic, for the first time. Others can’t wait to get back to traveling, going to restaurants, browsing in stores and making spontaneous plans.

Questions to move forward after COVID-19

   Yes, definitely  Yes, somewhat  No, not really  No, not at all  Not sure
Do you feel hopeful and optimistic about the weeks and months to come?
Have you set some goals and made plans for when the COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted?          
Have you developed new coping strategies that you can apply now to future challenges?          

Resources for moving forward

We hope you find these questions, tips and resources useful as you navigate your own COVID journey.

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