By Bob Mcnutt, LCSW
The last year and a half of social isolation seems to have some unexpected impacts on our patience and distress tolerance. This seems somewhat paradoxical since we have all practiced being bored and lonely since 2020, which seems like it could increase our tolerance for discomfort. Instead, it seems that the decreased stimulus is causing many to retreat into physical and emotional caves of comfort, making it difficult to integrate back into normal life. The following is a list of common issues caused by the changes of the COVID era and what you can do about them.
1) We all have different expectations regarding protections and connections, we want everyone to comply with our personal style of health protections in interactions. Seeing someone near you practice alternate styles of protections in interactions can create some severe judgements towards the other.
2) Isolation in person and connection through social media seems to have further engrained people’s held biases.
3) We are not used to other people getting in our way as much. Roads were emptier, food was delivery or pickup at restaurants and stores, more online shopping, and less overall interactions with people who slow us down by being in front of us in line.
4) We have less interactions with casual teasing banter and are now more prone to offense.
5) The favorite or easiest coping/avoidant behavior has been too accessible at home and we haven’t needed to accept and push through distress as much.
6) Feedback from work has not been face to face for many of us, we become more sensitive to light criticism when we cannot see the response from the other person. We get more fearful of negative responses in person.
7) Fearmongering on all sides of media, the news cycle is not friends with contentment. When media is constantly stimulating fear and anger responses, our ability to manage small distresses lowers.
What to do about it:
1) Focus on your own version of health protection in interactions. If you feel unsafe because of other people, how can you feel safer without completely isolating in your home. If you feel frustrated by restrictions on behaviors or protective behaviors of others, try to empathize with the fear or vulnerability that they may be experiencing. I do not recommend trying to change the behavior of a stranger.
2) Expand your in-person or online sources of interactions, reduce your impersonal sources of information. In person interactions allow for greater levels of connection, empathy and differing perspectives. Before you block someone online, ask what can be learned from this interaction first. Be cautious on quickly labeling others as trolls, try to understand perspective and intent before reacting.
3) NEVER BE IN A RUSH TO SIT ON THE COUCH. If I am impatient in traffic or at the store, what am I telling myself is so crucially important to get home to. Live in the moment when possible. Standing in line and sitting in traffic is far from torture when we connect with the moment non-judgementally.
4) Watch for intent first and be quick to forgive unintended offenses, when in doubt- assume the best. Try laughing/playing along.
5) Listen to your body and acknowledge the physical symptoms of your emotion. With each symptom, we can enhance the discomfort of these by worrying about them or lower the discomfort by accepting them. If symptoms are isolated and examined with curiosity they can be objectively labeled to dilute the intensity (rather than saying “I am anxious”, state “I am having the following symptoms of anxiety _____”). Look into expanding your coping skills by doing some light research into popular coping mechanisms.
6) Nobody is perfect for more than 1/8th of a second at a time. You will make mistakes. You will disappoint others. You will cause disruption in others’ lives. You must accept this reality if you wish to interact with the world around you. Separate failures from character (Unhealthy: I’m a failure! Healthy: Welp, I failed on that attempt, I’ll try again/learn from my mistake). Look for intent behind negative feedback: seldom is the intent “stop trying and leave me alone forever.” - most intents in negative feedback are: “I noticed this issue, try to resolve it and learn from this.”
7) Ask what you actually achieve/learn/grow from social media and news outlets. Look at the intent behind the social media and news outlets (They want your money or personal information to sell).
Bonus: Desensitize yourself to minor discomforts: start or end you shower with cold water for 15 seconds; be bored without filling the space with phone tapping or TV; keep the air conditioner at 74 instead of 72; exercise. Bonus feature of this is a slightly lower energy bill each month.
About the author
Bob McNutt, LCSW specializes in substance use, behavioral issues, depression, trauma, and PTSD. In his practice, Bob addresses the social and spiritual concerns of his clients, helping them to restructure negative cyclical thoughts.
Bob McNutt earned his bachelor’s of behavioral science from Utah Valley University and his master’s of social work from the University of Utah.