By Elizabeth Fedrick, PhD, LPC

 “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
– William James

It’s been a pretty rough few weeks. I don’t even want to get out of bed most mornings, and when I eventually do, I usually regret it within minutes. While I am aware that my family was annoying on occasion prior to all of this, I had no clue about how painfully annoying they could actually be. Every morning before coming out of my room, I try to prepare myself for my parents nagging me about how much I sleep, orchores, or missing school assignments. When this inevitably does happen, I feel so overwhelmed that I end up raising my voice or snapping back at them, which then leads to an argument, and then all of the sudden we are all mad…Someone remind me, why did I even get out of bed today?! And don’t even get me started on my siblings. I’ve heard that solitary confinement is one of the worst forms of punishment… Whoever suggested that, clearly has not experienced sibling confinement. Within minutes of the day starting, I feel my irritability increasing at the mere sight or even sound of my siblings. And heaven forbid they come near me. This often leads to an argument with them, which then leads to my parents getting involved, which ultimately leads to me getting in trouble, and back to my room I go. What is happening to me?! When did I become so sad and irritable?! I just want things to go back to normal.

When we are faced with a  traumatic experience, such as having life as we know it completely ripped away from us (and then to add insult to injury, being forced to spend 24/7 with the same few people), it is completely normal to experience an increase in sadness and anger. The quarantine has had a tremendous impact on mental health, including leading to an increase in symptoms of anxiety and depression.

This increase is happening because when we experience a threat to our well-being (either mental or physical), this leads to a fight-or-flight response. During this response, the amygdala (a part of your brain responsible for emotions) sends a message that you are in danger and that you must respond in some way to keep yourself safe. Our body gets prepped to do so by releasing a surge of adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormone), our heart rate and blood pressure increases, and many other physiological responses occur to ensure we are ready to take on this threat. Our body is ready to go into battle, regardless of if the threat is real or otherwise. When this response goes on for a prolonged amount of time (i.e. quarantine), it often leads to an increase in symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. These symptoms can result in lashing out, irrational responses, and behaviors we regret (i.e. yelling at your parents or siblings,despite knowing that this will only lead to your phone being taken away).

There is a good chance you are currently experiencing increased anxiety, worry, sadness, anger, and maybe even depression, because your brain is sending a message (with or without your consent) that things are not normal right now, and this feels like a major threat to your well-being. It is important to know that this is a completely natural reaction to what you are currently going through.While this emotional response sometimes feels out of your control, reminding yourself that this situation is not permanent, and finding healthy and productive ways to spend your time, are effective ways to manage the thoughts and behaviors that are happening in response to these overwhelming emotions.