Pretending, Normalizing, Mistaking…Feeling?

Statues around NYC don masks during the COVID-19 pandemic

Never-ending calls to customer service…Bank account errors…Work meeting escalations…Stimulus checks and unemployment system failures…Arguments…Depression…Anxiety…Short tempers…Mistakes…

How many of those are hitting close to home for you? I can count seven of them for myself. The pandemic has undoubtedly caused global catastrophes and chaos.

The one thing that I haven’t been able to truly understand is why it seems to creating meanness, rudeness, and cruelty across the board. So, I dug into research.

For me, understanding is key to being able to survive. And, in this case, I couldn’t help but wonder, is the pandemic killing kindness?

Street artists around New York showcase #NewYorkStrong

Abuse is on the rise…

According to Science Times, animal abuse and abandonment has increased significantly during the pandemic. Dig a little deeper and the news becomes more tragic…Domestic abuse has also risen worldwide this year. And, doctors and health care workers in India are reporting violence and hate crimes against them on the streets and even in their homes. I won’t even mention the violence and hate crimes happening against ALL kinds of people in the United States for ALL kinds of very intense reasons.

But why??? My 2 cents…

1) My first thought went to arts, leisure and entertainment…

Entertainment, leisure, travel and escapism all play an integral role in society. And, for the first time in my life, they’ve all been cancelled. People in high stress go to these industries to work out their problems, step away from life for a moment, and regroup. However, the only new and major “entertainment” to be found during COVID-19 is the news. Our entire social construct is being built around more and more bad news, and there is no escape. How does that play into our psyche and our relations with others? Without time for the brain to regroup, we’re all time bombs waiting for the next problem to completely explode.

2) Next, I wondered about our need to normalize…

Humans will attempt to adapt to difficult situations. Oftentimes, they will use normalization to create an understanding of what’s going on around them. Socially, normalization can be very important; it’s how we have come to positive changes for minority groups and become more accepting of others who think and look differently than we do.

However, it can also be detrimental. Trolls and online agitators have made cyber-bullying and “digital nastiness” normal… And, now, we’re trying to pretend like we’re okay. We’re downplaying our emotions. We’re normalizing our situation for our own survival. But, is it the right approach?

Looking to the experts…

The truth behind selfish behavior

According to Psychology Today, selfishness and self-preservation are directly linked. EVERYONE is in self-preservation mode.

  • Stay safe and away from the virus.
  • Find a job…Keep a job…
  • Find a way to feed your family. Does toilet paper still exist?
  • Find truth in the chaos and noise from the news.
  • Avoid crowds, trouble, violence on the streets.

It’s non-stop. Since we are all on heightened awareness of our own mortality and trying to protect ourselves, it’s no wonder that we are acting more selfish with our neighbors.

Social messaging and personality types

Messaging in the United States has failed certain personality types and traits. I hadn’t considered that public service announcements, requests, and mandates from the government would hit different personalities in different ways. But, it makes absolute sense. This is a dense study – TL;DR anyone? – but, it’s extremely eye-opening and worth a read.

Early in the pandemic, authorities appealed to people’s responsibility (e.g., “wash your hands”), compassion and cooperation (e.g., “protect others, even if your risk is low”), and fear (e.g., by emphasizing COVID-19’s lethality). Such appeals do not presume individual differences yet call for behaviors that map readily onto the normal-range personality domains from the five-factor model (FFM; Digman, 1990).

Blagov, P., Sage Journals. “Adaptive and Dark Personality in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Predicting Health-Behavior Endorsement and the Appeal of Public-Health Messages”

The effects of stress and fear

Many people have acknowledged that they are feeling more irritable than usual. That acknowledgement is key, but it’s not quite far enough. Can we figure out why and solve the problem?

Stress and fear…

Much akin to self-preservation and selfishness…we are ALL dealing with shortened tempers, irritability, and anxiety. We need to accept that we are feeling significant and real stress levels. According to Jeremy Tyler, director at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, “As a country, we pride ourselves on being very individualistic […] Two people who are married might very much value that they both have their own careers, different work out schedules and then they come home and share in a wonderful time together. Now it’s like you’re saying, ‘Nope, that’s all being taken away.’”

We have no idea what the future holds for our world, our nation, our state, our cities, and down to the real point – ourselves. Will we have a job? Will it look the same? Will we have culture and life outside of our four-walls? There are a lot of unknowns that we are facing collectively, but we aren’t collectively sharing in the grief.

Which brings me to the most poignant aspect…

The effects of solitary

Studies have shown for years that solitary confinement and isolation are extremely detrimental on mental health. I am (BY NO MEANS) experiencing the same pain and isolation felt by prisoners during solitary confinement. However, there are certain things that we can learn from this experience. We aren’t going into the office anymore…We aren’t going out to experience cultural events…And, with that comes change.

“’At work, we walk around and chitchat a bit – tell people ‘hi,’ and all of that gives our mind a little bit of a break,’ said psychiatrist, Dr. Gayani Desilva.”

However, with work from home…and everything at home…those little breaks are fewer and further between.

“‘Everybody is under so much stress and one of our key defense mechanisms is transference,’ Dr. Desilva said. ‘So, you just transfer your anxiety and anger, your inability to control the situation onto somebody else.’” CBS8

I again looked to the arts for comfort and came across this poem by Angélica Maria Aguilera. “I Take Notes From My Brother in Prison on Quarantine.” She discusses how she’s learning how to live in our world from her brother who is in prison. With lines like “must stink to feel like you’re in a prison,” and “a tattooed Mexican man with three dots covering his left cheekbone, suited in a blue jumpsuit uniform is suddenly a scholar in a field where the rest of us are gravely uneducated; how to be isolated against your own will” it’s hard not to feel the chills and actually accept the reality of our current state.

What should you do?

Is the pandemic killing kindness? No… But, it is creating an extremely difficult situation for all of us. We’re all feeling pain – even if we can’t quite figure out what it is. We need to work on being kinder. We need to work on figuring out our own feelings and accepting them. We need to understand the plight of those around us.

I’m not an expert. I’m just a human trying to make sense of the world around me. I’m guessing that might be you, too.

Here’s my takeaway and what I will try to do for myself and my family.

  1. If you need help – don’t normalize – ask! Having trouble with the stress? Many of us are. You aren’t alone! There are many places you can go for help. But, I’d start here.
  2. Find small things that you can do to give your mind a break. Recreate the break room in your home. Step away – grab a coffee – call a friend – read a chapter in a book. STEP AWAY FROM THE SCREEN!
  3. Review ideas for creating events in quarantine!
  4. Try your best to be kind and forgiving. We’re all in this together. We just need to keep reminding ourselves of that fact.

One foot in front of the other. This too shall pass.


Noah and Majhon

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