Though the pandemic has affected all of us to different degrees, few of us have escaped unscathed. For those who had to switch to remote work, there was the burden of childcare during school shutdowns, a lack of support from the traditional workplace environment, learning new technical skills, and Zoom fatigue.
For those out of work, there was the constant worry about paying rent or mortgage and putting food on the table. Fatigue and fear were constant companions of frontline healthcare workers who had to treat those affected. Seniors living in care centers faced extra stress, witnessing the infection rates in their facilities. Those living alone and without the support of family and friends were affected greatly by the isolation.
The pandemic created even more hardships for those already struggling with addictions and homelessness. “JAMA Psychiatry released a study recently where they showed that ER visits across the country were at higher levels during the pandemic than in 2019 with mental health, substance abuse, overdose issues,” says Dave Marlon, an addiction treatment provider who runs Vegas Stronger, a Las Vegas nonprofit focused on addressing the opiate epidemic, as well as working to get unhoused people off the streets and into treatment. “The pandemic really accelerated a lot of the trends we were already seeing.”
On top of that was the constant and overriding sense of fear, uncertainty, and loss that we all experienced. COVID-19 created a situation we had not experienced before, were not prepared for, and are still unsure of how we will come out of. This has caused unprecedented stress and pushed our coping abilities to their limits.
Despite this, there are tools that can help us manage, and even come out of the crisis stronger in some cases. Here are five ways emotional intelligence can help us come through this difficult time.
An awareness about what we can (and can’t) control
Those who are able to make the most of their time during the pandemic have deliberately chosen to focus their energy on what they can control, rather than dwelling on outside forces. They let go of thinking about what others are doing, actions of government (or lack thereof), and toilet paper shortages. Instead they focus on positive ways of spending their time and energy, getting scientifically valid information and following it, keeping up a healthy diet, and maintaining exercise and sleep routines. They choose their sources of COVID-19 information carefully and ignore the rest.
An awareness of anxiety levels
Emotionally intelligent people are good at recognizing their own anxiety levels and adjusting their activity proportionately. For instance, if they’re feeling particularly anxious about going out shopping, they might choose an off time when there are fewer people out, or take turns shopping with a family member, neighbor, or friend to decrease possible exposure to the virus. If financially able, they might consider a home delivery service.
Asking for (and providing) virtual support
Being forced to distance from family and loved ones is one of the most difficult parts of these times for many of us. Although realizing that it is not the same as physical touch and hugs, emotionally intelligent people are aware of the importance of reaching out and maintaining ongoing contact with those who are important to them.
They don’t wait for others to reach out, but take the initiative, understanding that it might be difficult for others to take the lead. This helps alleviate some of the feelings of isolation, anxiety, and disconnection that we are all experiencing. Emotionally intelligent people are able to reach out and ask for help when needed because of their ability to be vulnerable.
Having a goal or something to look forward to post-pandemic
For those who have lived through this pandemic, COVID-19 will define us for the rest of our lives. When we look back, we will find that those who had a future vision that they were working toward were better able to cope. Perhaps beginning to work toward a goal or dream that has been dormant will take our minds off of our present situation and help us focus on something positive that motivates and excites us. Is now a good time to write that book, spend more time with our kids, or take up that hobby we didn’t have time for before?
Asking yourself how you want to look back on this time
One of the ways of coping through difficult times that I talk about in my book, The Other Kind of Smart, is by imagining myself looking back upon an event or situation a number of years down the road. It’s a good way to remind yourself that this too will pass.
When I asked myself that question, I found it was important to me that I remember this time as being a productive growth period. I did not want to look back and see this time wasted. “A lot of the people we’ve seen thrive during the pandemic have found ways to strengthen their mental health, mindfulness, pick up new hobbies, and find ways to stay connected while staying distanced,” Marlon says.
I myself have been able to use this time to do more writing, learning, and even explore new interests. I always wanted to learn to play the blues harmonica, so I finally took courses. This time has provided me with an opportunity to learn a skill that will provide me with pleasure for the rest of my life. Look for opportunities to start doing something that will provide you with feelings of pride and satisfaction when you look back on this otherwise challenging time.