As the pandemic starts to tentatively slow down in the United States, many people are looking forward to the reopening of businesses, offices, concert halls and more.
But not everyone is ready or willing to move back into a society that may have not previously met their needs when things were “business as usual.”
Michigan State University Associate Professor and Director of Wellness Resilience In Vulnerable Populations Dr. Claudia Finkelstein explains that the feelings of relief some may have over the slow reopening may not exactly be what others are experiencing.
“There are some people that are so pent up, they’re dying to get into a party or on a crowded vacation, a crowded bar, back to their worship services without masks,” Finkelstein said on CapRadio's Insight. “There’s a sort of silent group of people who tend to have thrived not having to be out in society every minute of every day.”
Finklestein said that even as an extroverted person, she’s found herself “somewhat enjoy[ing] holding up in [her] home office and not having to expend so much social capital every minute of the day.”
Insight’s Vicki Gonzalez spoke with Finkelstein to better understand the “silent group” and also gave some tips on how to show compassion for people who might be experiencing anxiety or distressing emotions.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
On the changing nature of the pandemic in the U.S.
We’re just zigging and zagging from “it’s not a big deal, it’s a huge deal. Nobody needs to wear masks, everybody nears to wear masks. This is open, that is closed.”
And I think it’s really confusing for us as human beings to keep having to change direction.Some of it was inevitable because it’s a brand new virus. Nobody really knows the behavior, so [that] part is inevitable. But [one] part was just kind of crummy, crummy disagreement between people and we don’t know who to believe or who to trust.
On coping with the once-again shifting social structure
Well, I think that’s the million-dollar question, and it comes down to very deceptively simple answers.
I mean, just treat yourself as if you are a cranky toddler, and extend the same courtesy to your family members and coworkers. So has this little cranky person had enough to eat, had enough to drink? Have they slept enough? Have they moved their body?
I’m not really trying to make light of it, but it’s just an easy way to remember to keep yourself physiologically calm. Being really hungry is very easy to mistake for being very, very anxious. Same as sleep deprivation, etc. So take care of your basic biological needs.
There are a couple of really good meditative practices that can also help in starting with compassion. Compassion for yourself, for your own cranky toddler, and extending that compassion to all of those around you … It doesn’t mean putting up with people treating you poorly, but it does mean sort of not getting riled up and ready to fight with everybody that crosses our path.
On signs someone is experiencing anxiety
Increased irritability is probably one of the most obvious things to notice, and the other end of that spectrum is huge social withdrawal.
So, people who are just chafing at almost everything that we tell them and who are highly, highly irritable. Sometimes people find anger a more energizing and easy emotion to deal with than anxiety. So seemingly irrational anger is one side. The other side is just extreme withdrawal.
“No, I can’t or don’t want to talk to you or take a walk or do anything.” So those are two anchors on either end. But, it can come out really differently in everybody. So I think we [can] just assume that everyone we’re interacting with is probably on some level more anxious than normal.
And so we all just put our best foot forward in terms of our assumptions about others and in terms of expectations of ourselves.
On how to deal with inflamed feelings and conflicting views from the pandemic
I think a ton has been written [about fraying relationships] even before the pandemic about how to deal with relatives with conflicting views … The fact that we’re pretty fragmented in terms of our views of many political issues.
And this fragmentation has extended into our views of science, of reality, of what is fact and what is truth. I think it becomes even more important to have a degree of compassion for where this person is coming from without fighting and without capitulating. You know what I mean? It’s a real tough needle to thread sometimes.
I recognize [that this] is much easier said than done, but one way that is effective to do that is to peel back to the common values, right? For example, wanting your children to have a peaceful, healthy life, the common value of wanting to be able to go out in the street and feel safe … getting to the base of what is our common goal as human beings.
On ways to calm our stressors or support our loved ones
Take a break when you need one, you know? Keeping yourself alive and well and emotionally healthy is your absolute starting point.
Don’t go out there thinking that “I’m going to make this other person know the truth.” Stick to your own … integrity. I wouldn’t say convincing other people to think just like you is necessarily the hill to die on now.
Vicki Gonzalez conducted the interview
Megan Manata edited and wrote the digital article
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