Coping with Guilt During Quarantine
By Vassilia Binensztok, PhD, LMHC, NCC
The Covid-19 pandemic has led to major lifestyle changes for all of us. Increased responsibilities, heightened expectations, and being in closed quarters can give guilt an opportunity to show up. Guilt leads us to negative, often distorted thoughts about ourselves and our actions. Guilt exacerbates our negative experiences and keeps us from healing. Now, more than ever, is a time to practice self-forgiveness and understanding. Below are several reasons we might feel guilty during this pandemic, and why we don’t need to.
Why you might feel guilty: Trouble transitioning to online work
Many people are finding it difficult to transition to online work. This could be due to technology issues, trouble accomplishing certain tasks remotely, or feeling burnt out or preoccupied. We might not be familiar with certain video conferencing platforms or find it difficult to adapt to this new format. Many teachers and professors are challenged with adapting entire in-person courses online. Additionally, we might feel tired or stressed out, making it difficult to work.
Why you don’t need to feel guilty: Remember, you were not hired to do your job entirely, or even partially, online. You are not a poor employee or doing a bad job if you are struggling to learn entirely new skills that, thus far, had nothing to do with your job description. Also, we are all dealing with an unprecedented event and all have to learn to cope together. It is normal to feel distracted or worn out from stress.
Why you might feel guilty: Not doing as well as you would like when homeschooling children
A lot of people are currently challenged with teaching their children. They might be doing their own work while helping their children navigate an entirely new learning modality. Schoolwork can pile up as parents struggle to remember these same lessons they learned as kids. Parents might feel like they don’t know enough of each subject or guilty that it is so tiresome and frustrating to spend the time teaching their children.
Why you don’t need to feel guilty: Unless you are a teacher, you are not expected to know how to teach. Even then, many teachers are not expected to teach outside of their subject or grade areas. Becoming a qualified teacher takes years of education, experience, and hard work. You are not expected to become a teacher overnight, even if your child’s teacher gives you the resources. This is not your job or something you were anticipating. Everyone is also used to certain routines. Changing this can make it difficult for both you and your children to get used to learning from home.
Why you might feel guilty: Not being more productive with work or hobbies
There are a lot of suggestions floating around social media for ways to make our time in quarantine or self-isolation more productive. Ideas include learning a new language or how to play an instrument, taking up art or a new form of exercise, even writing a book or opening an online store. While it’s great to be ambitious, and this time might actually be an opportunity for some people, others can feel pressured to make the most of their time while feeling too immobilized or tired to follow through with these ideas.
Why you don’t need to feel guilty: It’s difficult, if not impossible, to be your most productive during a crisis. And that’s exactly what we are expecting of ourselves when we set these standards. When we are experiencing a crisis, our nervous systems go into a perpetual fight-or-flight mode. The inspiration and motivation to do something creative or entrepreneurial becomes greatly diminished. It is normal if we find it difficult to pursue our creative endeavors during a crisis.
Why you might feel guilty: Not sticking to habits like exercise or healthy eating
Much like the prior point, social media will have us believing this time is an opportunity to improve our eating or start a new exercise regimen. Not only is this a challenge, but many people might let go of their regular healthy habits. Guilt ensues over junk food eaten and workouts skipped.
Why you don’t need to feel guilty: Very healthy, balanced eating, and regular exercise routines are luxuries to an extent. While nourishment and movement are both necessities, they can look different at different times. When we have the means, the time, and the mindset, we can eat and exercise in an optimal way. But when we don’t have these resources, our eating and exercise might look like the bare minimum, and that is ok. It is normal that you would not be doing what you would normally do if there were not a pandemic. Everything looks different right now and it is ok to do the best you can at the time.
Why you might feel guilty: Negative feelings towards the person or people you are quarantined with
Some of us might find our loved ones too close for comfort right now. We might desperately need some space and time to ourselves. This can lead us to feel guilty for not being totally appreciative of the time together. Others might be quarantined with someone they do not want to be around at all – a toxic parent or a partner they were considering breaking up with. They might feel guilty for going back on boundaries or for harboring negative feelings.
Why you don’t need to feel guilty: We are not our best selves in a crisis. We cannot expect ourselves to be our most loving, caring, and forgiving, even to the people we love the most. It’s ok to want space or to feel irritated. This particular crisis also does not give us the choice to change our relationships right now. It’s ok if you feel forced to spend time with someone you prefer not to be around.
Why you might feel guilty: Losing faith in spirituality
A lot of people might feel betrayed by their higher power or belief system. They can find themselves losing faith in spiritual sources of support and struggle to find meaning in their experiences. Especially if we have made a commitment to, or found solace in our belief systems, we can feel guilty for doubting our faith.
Why you don’t need to feel guilty: Spirituality is a journey. It is not always a straight path. Spirituality doesn’t always mean having full faith or comfort in our beliefs. While a loss of faith can lead us down an emotional path, it can ultimately deepen our faith. We have the opportunity to find new meaning and understand our personal relationship to spirituality.
I hope that if you use this time of crisis for anything, it is to be more forgiving of yourself. Feeling guilty is normal but it is unnecessary and compounds our suffering during a difficult time. Life can be tough enough as it is, so we have to remember to let go of emotions that only get in the way of our healing. It’s ok if just focus on surviving during this stressful time.
I am a therapist in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida currently providing video sessions for online counseling in Florida.