Can I complain about coronavirus? Why it is OK to vent, sometimes

The COVID-19 pandemic is different from many crises in that it has affected all of us regardless of politics, economics, religion, age or nationality. This virus is a good reminder that humanity is vulnerable to what nature throws at us, and that we are all in this together.

I am an academic psychiatrist specializing in research and treatment of anxiety and stress. Believe me, you are not alone if you feel like complaining.



COVID-19 has affected us if not infected us

This pandemic has profoundly changed our way of living. Overnight, dining out, exercising at the gym or seeing friends in person became impossible for millions of Americans. Remote working, reduced work hours and income, and uncertainty are indeed stressful. Most of us are having to make important adjustments and quickly learn new skills, such as how to do virtual meetings or be motivated to work from home. Given we are creatures of habit, these adjustments can be hard.

We are also stressed by continuous exposure to sad news, often contradictory predictions and recommendations coming from different sources. The constantly changing and evolving nature of this situation is very frustrating.

We humans hate the unknown and limited sense of control over life. Worse, our fear system is designed for fending off dangers, not for modern life crises where we do not need to fight or escape a predator. Hence, we need to find creative ways of responding to crisis, some adaptive and some not.


This angry mom's rant about homeschooling children while in quarantine goes viral www.youtube.com


Complaining and venting

Humans are a social species, which means sharing one's thoughts, feelings and experiences. Successful social connection involves the ability to share both positive and negative emotions. During crisis, we can get comfort in sharing our fears and receiving calming and objective feedback from others.

The question is: How much can I complain without being the person everybody avoids? We don't want to be an Eeyore.

To answer this question, consider what we and others get out of such communication. Is the end result for us feeling less worried or sad, and others feeling supportive? Or are both parties emotionally exhausted and feeling worse?

Benefits of venting

Venting our fears and concerns can be beneficial. Sharing feelings with others, just the act of verbalizing those feelings will reduce their intensity.

Others may provide support and care, and soothe the negative feelings. And we can do the same for them. We learn that we are not alone in this, when we hear others are also having those feelings.

And, we may learn from others, how they cope with their frustration or fear, and that can help us adopt those methods in our life.



When to know the limits

Venting should not become a habit, though. At the end of the day, it won't fix the problem. Here are suggestions on when to stop sharing negative emotions:

  • When venting becomes the main coping style, and importantly, when it delays adaptive necessary action. Venting about homeschooling children will not take care of their education.
  • When sharing with others stresses them. It is unfair to make myself feel better at the expense of others' sanity. When people start avoiding you in response to your venting, it means you are stressing them out.
  • When venting does not achieve the goal of feeling better, and one or both of us feel worse. Do not vent just for the purpose of complaining. Your mind is like your stomach: If you feed it good food, you will be healthy and happy. If you keep feeding it garbage, you will feel sick.
  • Young children are not there to listen to our problems, and their job is not to soothe us. Being parents' therapist can have negative long-term effects on children, the least of which is that they may learn that complaining as a main coping style.
  • When you experience signs of clinical depression (depressed mood, low energy, poor or increased appetite, insomnia, poor concentration, among others), talk to your doctor to see if you need professional care beyond just a listening ear.


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Other ways to cope

Here are a few tips on how to cope with the stress of these days:

  • Get your facts from medical experts, and websites such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health authorities, not from rumors or random social media posts. By knowing the facts, you get an objective estimate of the risks. Knowing legitimate ways of protecting yourself and your loved ones provides a sense of control and reduces anxiety. Just know enough to protect yourself and your family.
  • Do not get obsessed with the news, and do not keep checking for hours and hours. Make sure to give yourself hourslong breaks from the news. Don't worry – the network anchors will always be there for you to come back to them.
  • Give yourself a chance to be distracted from bad news. Watch movies or TV series, documentaries (animals are awesome), or comedies if you want to watch something.
  • Remember all the activities you always wanted to do but did not have time. This does not have to always be errands or housework. It could, and should, include fun activities and hobbies.
  • Keep your routines. Go to bed and leave bed at the same times you did before, and eat your normal meals. Now you can spend more time cooking and eating healthy.
  • If you are a social person, stay connected via phone, video chat or other technology. Physical isolation should not lead to social isolation. Connect, especially now that you have free time.
  • Stay physically active. Regular exercise, especially moderate cardio, not only improves physical health and immune system but also helps with depression and anxiety. Trainers are offering free home exercise training these days online. You can also use exercise as a means for bonding with your loved ones.
  • Meditate and use mindfulness techniques.
  • Work on your yard or gardening projects. You will be safe, active and productive.

Finally, know that this too shall pass. Medicine will ultimately control the pandemic. We are a very resilient species and have been around for millions of years. We can survive this with wisdom.

Arash Javanbakht is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Wayne State University

This story originally appeared on The Conversation. You can read it here.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Prior to European colonization of North America, millions of bison roamed the Great Plains. By the turn of the 20th century, those numbers had dropped to less than 1,000. The deliberate decimation of buffalo herds was a direct attack on the Native American people, who colonizers saw as an obstacle to their "Manifest Destiny," and who the U.S. government engaged in a systematic attempt to eliminate or force into docile submission.

For thousands of years, bison were a sacred, inseparable part of life for Indigenous tribes of the Great Plains, used for food, shelter, utensils, and clothing, in addition to spiritual and emotional well-being. Wiping out the bison population nearly wiped out the Native tribes they were connected to.

Though bison numbers have increased significantly thanks to conservation efforts, governments are still grappling with the ugly legacy, and some municipalities are taking steps to try to repair some of the damage done. As one example, the city of Denver, Colorado has taken the step of giving some of the city's bison population managed by Denver Parks and Recreation to Native American tribes engaged in bison conservation efforts.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less