Getting through pandemic stress requires moments of vulnerability

Forcing ourselves to carry on as if things are normal right now is unhealthy

Now is the time to be kind to yourself. Illustration: Maple Sukontasukkul/The Peak

By: Michelle Young, Staff Writer

While for many the switch to social distancing wasn’t very difficult, for others it has been — and that’s OK. These changes were abrupt and we will all respond differently as we’re adjusting. 

People aren’t meant to live in isolation, and require social connection to remain healthy. It’s unrealistic to expect students to function at the same level as they would under regular circumstances. Many of us are faced with surges of anxiety as we watch the news and hear of the COVID-19 cases rapidly rising by the day. We’re putting on our strong faces; we shield our emotions behind quarantine memes and apocalyptic jokes. We’re all turning to different forms of coping mechanisms to help deal with the shock and stress of everything that’s happening, and that’s OK. However, one thing that is utterly necessary amid all of this is allowing vulnerability.  

Vulnerability essentially allows us to be honest about our emotions and recognize our feelings. This means experiencing our emotions fully with a sense of openness and acceptance. Constantly dealing  with all this uncertainty and invisible danger produces a lot of emotions that we may not necessarily be familiar with. As a result, we may not know how to cope with these new, dominant emotions. Being vulnerable allows us to experience our emotions sincerely, can aid in connecting with one another, or simply give us the chance to indulge in our feelings. 

As noted by the US National Library of Medicine, being in a state of heightened emotional strain can make us more prone to sickness — and we don’t need that right now. To help curb emotional turmoil, we can turn to our social supports and allow ourselves some emotional honesty with other people. But we can also practice emotional honesty by ourselves. Studies have shown that awareness of our feelings reduces stress, helps us focus, and gives us a better understanding of ourselves and one another. This can be a difficult task, since it’s easy to fill up the days with activities that don’t require internal reflection. Many of us are staying home as if the COVID-19 crisis is simply abstractly “out there,” not affecting us. 

However, the crisis is affecting us, one way or another. Some of us may be suffering from loneliness as a result of being away from loved ones. Others might be stressed out about how this pandemic is going to affect our families and friends. As our workload shifts to accommodate working at home, we may become overwhelmed. 

By acknowledging our situation — allowing ourselves to be vulnerable — and reflecting on how it makes us feel, we can recognize that it’s natural to be sad, anxious, or frustrated with these circumstances. Through this realization, we can also determine why we feel this way, what we can do to address our emotions, and how to help ourselves feel better — even if it’s just by a little bit. 

There are currently a few free online counselling resources with professional therapists available to students. These include Here2Talk (a resource for post-secondary students in BC which provides mental health support) and My SSP to assist SFU students. While there are mixed opinions on the effectiveness of these services, sometimes simply venting to another person can be helpful. 

Ultimately, allowing ourselves to both experience and work through our emotions right now is not only OK, it’s also necessary for our well-being. We shouldn’t be held to expectations of acting like everything is fine; the reality is that we’re in a global pandemic, things are a long way from “fine.” Embrace your emotions, allow vulnerability, and open up to one another. As cheesy as it sounds, we’re only human, and the only way to get through this is together.