A Pine Perspective: When “Positive” Becomes the New Negative
We are navigating a new normal.
Not only a new normal day to day, but we are also in the midst of defining a new normal from here on out. We are not only living and persevering through days of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we are also coping on individual, community, and societal levels with the implications of systemic inequality rooted in racism. Racism is a public health crisis.
Even in the days B.C. (before Corona), finding balance in our lives was difficult: between juggling work, school, family obligations, health concerns, financial concerns, overall life concerns, and self-care. Now, as we see cases rising across the United States, we are left with the task of not only juggling the same old work-life balance, but also coping on a daily basis with the grief, mortality, fear, and ambiguity that COVID-19 has infected our minds with.
Not only is the virus itself contagious, but also the fear and anxiety felt throughout news reports, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. The disproportionate health burden of COVID-19 on Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic Americans illustrates an ongoing, silent pandemic our country has handled even more poorly. For more information on the inequity in health outcomes resulting from systemic racism, visit our previous post).
Image Source: United Nations COVID-19 Response
We are grappling with so many emotions, frustrations, and ambiguities than we have been prepared to process.
On-top of all this, not even this pandemic could pause our go-go-go culture. The pressure to produce and succeed even in the midst of this multifaceted stress festers in the quarters of our homes. The work-from-home culture encourages, or even feeds into, this ultra-productivity urge. Working from home eliminates the natural separation of space that helped us naturally segment our time. Our boundaries between work and leisure have now been blurred and smeared to the point where a laptop becomes the central hub for all things work, education, play, news, dating, relaxing, and socializing. All of this can take a toll on our mental health.
“Even without a pandemic, one in four of us will suffer a mental health episode during our lifetimes… Mental health services are an essential part of all government responses to COVID-19… There is no health without mental health.” -António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations [Read more here]
Below are some motifs that may help with conceptually sorting through emotions during this time. It is not exhaustive and is mainly centered on the impacts of COVID-19, but we hope that it may provide some guidance through these times.
In addition to conversations surrounding COVID-19, conversations in regards to the mental health of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community must be emphasized. Our society has waited far too long to address the health, environmental, and societal impacts of anti-black racism built into the structure of our institutions. The concept of intersectionality, highlighted by Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work, demonstrates that BIPOC may carry the burden of topics discussed below as well as the additional burden of coping with the mass influx of anti-black racism. See the “Intersectionality” segment to learn more about the increased burden on the mental health of Black communities during these times. In that section, we have also included some BIPOC-specific mental health resources.
Filling the Silence
During social isolation, we may be avoiding silence even more than before. After all, silence leaves us alone to deal with our thoughts head on. And many of our concerns may be things we, in the past months, actively tried to avoid: the stress, worry, and uncertainty, endemic to this pandemic. We think of the “normal” summer days that are no longer, we worry and miss our friends and family, and we hear an endless stream of news that brings more problems to mind than solutions. Silence may also be a reminder of the loneliness that comes with social isolation.
Here, self-compassion and mindfulness have been the greatest tools I have found to combat this cycle. Self-compassion includes taking the time to listen to yourself as you would listen to your dearest friend - if your friend was feeling what you were feeling, what would you say to make them feel better?
Mindfulness Meditation can be guided (through various apps, Spotify/Apple Music, Youtube) or self-directed (walking meditation, body scan, breathing exercise). But really the goal isn’t the meditation, it is the mindfulness. So do not fret if you feel like you are not doing it right, if you are taking the time to tune into your current state, you are.
Loving-Kindness Meditation, for example, is a form of mindfulness that is meant to direct self-compassion towards your own suffering by opening you up to the possibilities of greater compassion towards others. Practicing meditation such as this may also help to bring comfort to silence. If you want to try something more personal, try recording yourself reading the script and playing it back for yourself to hear.
Managing Feelings of Guilt
I have found myself sorting through two slightly different variations of guilt: productivity guilt and suffering guilt. If I am lucky enough to be stuck at home but am not being productive with my time while there are people fighting to survive or risking their own lives on the frontline - how do I sit easy with that? Pair this thought process with: I am sad at the loss of my graduation, the loss of my summer plans, the loss of a “normal” future we didn't know we could lose. But why am I complaining when so many others have it so much worse than I? This brings forth the concept of comparative suffering.
Comparative Suffering is an aspect of emotional intelligence that may be hurting you. When we deny our true feelings, it invites shame. We think: “why am I so mad/sad/unproductive when others have it so much worse than me? I am such a bad person”. According to Dr. Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, this thought process stems from the thinking that empathy is finite. We worry that if we spend too much of it on ourselves, we may end up with less to go around. But this is wrong. If we start with being empathetic to ourselves, we can be rejuvenated and at peace enough to spread more to others.
Once you acknowledge your situation, accept what you are truly feeling, and give yourself time to feel this loss, you can convert these feelings into action. Offer your time to a local food bank, assist your parents with yard work, donate to local/national/global services that provide aid to others, start a blog to fight the spread of misinformation and internet negativity! This way of spreading positivity can not only address aspects of comparative suffering, but can also work to ease the suffering of others.
Behind the numbers are people.
Being confronted with this truth highlights our mortality, abruptly and undeniably. For those who have lost a loved one, coping with grief and loss during social isolation can feel like you are alone. To those of you who are grieving, know you have friends out here who care for you, people out here you have yet to meet who care, and strangers here now who care.
For those who have watched the news, seen the May 22 New York Times front page, felt the nervousness of testing positive for COVID-19, this is all grief, too. David Kessler, a leader expert on grief, calls this Anticipatory Grief. This type of grief is more broad and is centered on “imagined futures”.
“Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.” -David Kessler. Read more in Kessler’s interview with the Harvard Business Review.
In this, Kessler identifies that this grief is collective. We have each other. Don’t stop texting, calling, waving, eye crinkling/smizing (when masks cover your smile) at each other. Don’t stop pushing forth support for your friends, family, acquaintances. We can fight to see the meaning, even with the morbid backdrop of a global pandemic.
Want even more? David Kessler joins Dr. Brené Brown for a podcast episode on grief and meaning.
While being socially distanced and worried about a global pandemic are not ways I intended to spend my mid-20’s, I can make the most of this time with my family and in my childhood home [See our Pine Perspective Piece on the joys and feels of being back in our childhood home… again].
In light of the impacts of COVID-19 and health disparities due to racism emerging to the forefront of the public eye, intersectionality is a term that is particularly relevant.
Intersectionality “is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It's not simply that there's a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there." - Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, in a 2017 Interview with Columbia Law School. See Dr. Crenshaw’s TED Talk “The Urgency of Intersectionality” or read this Vox special for more on this topic.
As July is BIPOC Mental Health Month, we must also be aware of intersectionality as it applies to mental wellbeing. While suffering and coping with racism is not a new phenomenon for people who are BIPOC, it may be a particularly straining time to be inundated with information regarding existing health disparities, Black trauma and death on T.V. and social media, and the seemingly carelessness of others all on top of living through a global pandemic.
Please be aware of intersectionality as you share information on social media and engage with the Back Lives Matter movement. Before you share videos or information about Black trauma or death, think about the purpose of doing so and the impact this may have on the mental health of people who are BIPOC.
BIPOC SPECIFIC MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES FOR OUR READERS:
This resource is a working document that provides links to therapy services and other resources based in the U.S. to “increase awareness for inclusive mental health resources for trauma related to oppression and injustice”.
NAMI on Instagram Resources
Ray, a platform connecting you with FREE mental wellbeing support (NOT for emergency needs).
Check out or Instagram (@thepineperspective) "Resources" highlight for more BIPOC mental health resources shared on that platform. If you encounter any additional resources you’d like to share, please drop a note in the comments or message us and we will add them in.
In these days where the word “positive” has become associated with so many negative emotions, you still hold the power to positively impact those around you with your attitude, your thoughtfulness, and your presence.
This is not to say we can take COVID-19 lightly. We must continue to take precautions that alter our previous “normal”, we must seek reliable sources to inform our health decisions, BUT we can also practice self-compassion if we do not feel as productive/ happy/ or optimistic while doing those things.
When the mind is weighed down by the fear of testing positive, focus on what you can control. We can practice greater compassion towards ourselves and others. We can take a moment to self-reflect and take a break. We can remind ourselves that we are doing the best we can.
With this, we can shift our mindset from the fear of testing positive to one of being positive or -even further- to making positive change. We got this.
If you are struggling, know you are not alone. The following resources are not emergency services. In an emergency, call 911 and request health professionals or call local mental health professionals.
CDC resources for assistance during this time:
Call Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) helpline at 1-800-985-5990 OR text TalkWithUs to 66746
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
The Jed Foundation: a non-profit that protects emotional health and prevents suicide for teens and young adults
Text "START" to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Mental Health America has compiled a list of resources for companionship and financial support, and immediate response. Search your state’s health department webpage for region-specific resources. (EX: For those in Minnesota, California, New York).
For translated COVID-19 resources, the Washington State Department of Social & Health services has compiled a list of resources translated into 73 languages.
For more resources on grief: See this compilation by the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital and these resources by Care Dimensions.
Continue to DONATE to BLM + BIPOC causes through Step Forward Tool and/or check out this National Resource Guide for ways to continue involvement with protests (source unknown - discovered through instagram)
B.A. Biology | Carleton College
M.P.H. | Dartmouth College
Monica Nguyen, Shruthi Patchava, Arushi Krishnan, Divya Chawla
M.P.H. | Dartmouth College