In just a few short weeks, our lives have been upended. Every comforting feeling of certainty has been replaced with uncertainty. We are frightened for ourselves and our families, horrified by the images from inside hospitals, and heartbroken by the statistics and stories of loss.
And yet, we are rediscovering joy in simple things: meaningful chats with friends and family, daily springtime walks, sit-down family dinners, reading books, or trying out new recipes.
Experiencing multiple emotions at the same time can be a struggle for us humans, especially when the emotions are polar opposites. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought this conundrum front and center, with many people expressing guilt over enjoying the ‘silver lining’ aspects of the pandemic. How can it be okay to experience these joys at the same time doctors and nurses are putting their lives on the line to save the afflicted? How can we take such pleasure in family meals when warehouse and delivery people are risking their health to keep us supplied and fed?
The answer is : Not only are you allowed to feel what you feel — negative and positive — but letting yourself feel it is important for your health.
Don’t try to stifle negative emotions. Research has shown that holding back thoughts and feelings is stressful. You can consciously focus elsewhere for a time, but you can never truly escape “bad” feelings, and trying to repress them only adds hard emotional work that can tax the brain and body, making you more susceptible to getting sick or just feeling awful. You are allowed to feel despair, fury, and impatience, and fear — always, but especially now.
The same is true with positive emotions. During times of sadness and uncertainty especially, genuine positive feelings are the healing balm. When you resist positive feelings, you add a negative emotion, guilt, into the mix. That is the opposite of being kind to yourself. Moments of glee and gratitude remind us that we are resilient, that there’s hope, and that life goes on. So give yourself permission to laugh and enjoy simple pleasures. If part of you is feeling grateful, welcome that feeling.
We need balance, now more than ever. It is vital to our well-being to embrace all of our emotions. To be human is to experience both joy and sorrow, sometimes all at once. We grow and thrive and celebrate, and sometimes we falter. Sometimes we struggle and grieve. Sometimes we have to surrender control to something larger than ourselves.
If your mood is up one day, and low the next, that is normal. Our world is experiencing a global trauma. Allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling — and be sure to express it as well, as that is essential to coping. Whether it’s through art, movement, music, journaling, or simply talking about your feelings with a trusted friend, articulating your emotions will help you get through this crisis.
This highlights another paradox: public health requires that we isolate, but our social connections help sustain us through challenging times. So reach out, and be within reach. Open up and encourage others to do the same. And if you end up enjoying being connected more to loved ones, if you delight in the slower pace, if you relish the needed quiet and rest…. Don’t feel guilty. Make space for that goodness, even as you acknowledge your thornier emotions.