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New emotions to have come out of the pandemic

New emotions to have come out of the pandemic

Amid the chaos of 2020 has emerged a new set of words in our vocabulary. Among these words are new emotions and feelings we haven't felt before. 

New emotions to have come out of the pandemic

“The unprecedented crisis caused by the novel coronavirus has left us with an equally unprecedented set of unfamiliar emotions,” explains relationship therapist Dr Esther Perel.

Swinging from states of stress and anxiety to confusion and anger have become a normal part of our daily lives. But these new emotions are more that simple ‘stress’ or ‘fear’, explains Perel, and being able to label them is an important part of our mental survival.

“Breaking it down into parts—and giving those parts names—is crucial to our health, safety, and sanity,” she says.

Esther Perel’s four emotions to emerge out of 2020

Having questions with no answers in sight: Prolonged Uncertainty

‘We are living in uncertain times’ is the phrase of the year. We’ve all faced uncertainty in our lives but this time its different. “We don’t know when our feeling of uncertainty will end,” explains Perel.

This leaves us with an overwhelming set of questions with no answers; when can we travel again? Will I keep my job? Will the news ever stop?

Missing the big and small parts of our lives: Ambiguous Loss

“This is loss on a massive, ubiquitous scale,” says Perel. The things we’ve lost are not so easy to pinpoint. It’s not an object or a person, but the “intangible elements of our normal lives”, she says, using the term ‘Ambiguous Loss’ coined by her colleague Pauline Boss.

“It’s a loss of the way we have lived; the boundaries between work, home, school and more,” she says.

It’s the ambiguity that makes it so difficult to both grasp and overcome. “Because it is ambiguous, it is difficult to know what we are mourning.”

Realising that we could lose the people we love: Anticipatory Grief

While many of us have experienced the death of loved ones, another feeling of grief has emerged out of 2020.

“Anticipatory Grief, the realisation that we could lose our loved ones,” Perel says.

“For those of us alone in quarantine, we’re grieving the loss of all direct human connection. And those of us who have lived with too much neglect and loneliness are being triggered again and losing hope that we won’t always need to be so self-reliant.”

Experiencing a culmination of distressing emotions: Stress

‘Stress’ is the word used to describe an array of difficult emotions, explains Perel.

“Stress is really sadness, helplessness, despair, and grief. We know that all of the many emotions that comprise our Prolonged Uncertainty, Ambiguous Loss, and Anticipatory Grief are always looking for a place to land,” she adds.

Often these feelings land on the people around us which does not help anyone.

How to cope with all these emotions

With all these new feelings bubbling up to the surface, how to we deal with it all and what emotional tools can we use?

It’s here where Perel turns to the advice from Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frank to be ‘Tragically Optimistic’: “The human capacity to creatively turn life’s negative aspects into something positive or constructive.”

“If we can cultivate Tragic Optimism, we have a chance to experience Post-Traumatic Growth. And if we do it together, we can become Collectively Resilient,” advises Perel.

Where to start

Perel offers a few starting points to identify and voice these feelings:

  • “Don’t just say “I’m stressed!” Try to put your feelings into words.”
  • “Do small, rapid interventions” such as going for a walk, focussing on one breath at a time and reassuring yourself that you are okay.
  • “Resist advice to only be forward-looking” but looking back at times of when you and people you know have overcome challenges
  • Reach out to each other for support
  • Volunteer. “Nothing can take us out of our depression, guilt, or boredom like helping others. It gives us a sense of purpose.”

READ MORE: A psychiatrist shares his 9 ways to survive lockdown.

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