My days are normal—or what passes for normal when your entire routine has been upended. I wake up, I make coffee, I go for a run, I work, I reheat whatever looks appealing for lunch, I work some more. I Slack my colleagues and group text my friends and FaceTime my parents all day, connecting virtually with such vigor that I almost forget the reality of what’s going on. Birds still fly by the window. Dishes still pile up in the sink. The mail still comes (for now, anyway).
Then the clock hits 6 p.m., and everything stops. Normally, this is a time of day I look forward to; the end of the workday means that only a short subway ride stands between me and a just slightly irresponsible number of drinks with friends, or a cheesy romantic comedy at home with my roommates, or listening to Lucy Dacus while I cook dinner in rare, blissful solitude.
Now that solitude is the new normal—for myself and so many others—6 p.m. scares me like it never has before. Suddenly filling the hours until bedtime feels like a burden. I feel so lucky to have my health and livelihood unaffected by the coronavirus—and not to have children relying on me during this unimaginably stressful time—that I manage to push down my loneliness for most of the day. But when work stops so does my optimism.
It's psychologically impossible for most of us to walk around feeling the full weight of the COVID-19 pandemic all the time. “We often unconsciously stop feeling our trauma partway into it, like a movie that is still going after the sound has been turned off,” writes social worker and psychotherapist Susan Pease Banitt in her book The Trauma Tool Kit: Healing PTSD From the Inside Out. Right now, we’re subsuming our collective pain to cope, but the fear and anxiety of our new reality catches up with everyone at different times.
Vogue’s senior culture editor, Estelle Tang, says it feels like the familiar Sunday scaries have run riot: “That leaden sensation that I usually get around dusk on Sunday nights is a rather unpredictable companion now. Whether it’s the end of the workday or when I wake up on a weekend morning, or after getting off the phone with a friend, it now seems like almost anything can induce that combination of apprehension and directionlessness.”
For Daniella, a therapist now conducting virtual sessions who has temporarily relocated to her parents’ house, mornings are the hardest: “At 9 a.m., I wake up in my childhood bed, groggy and tired, and suddenly remember the state of the world. I’m generally an early bird, but suddenly it feels like I have a pile of bricks on me when I try to get up.”
Screenwriter Dana’s existential anxiety is often tied to midday hunger: “During my 3 p.m. low-blood-sugar coffee break, I get weepy or cranky in isolation. Then I eat something bready and vow not to read Twitter for the rest of the day. The next day, I’m up early, combing through Twitter, and it starts all over again.” Natalie, a video editor whose job requires her to stay on top of the news 24/7, also finds midafternoon challenging: “Around 4 p.m. on weekdays, the sun starts getting really warm, and it’s beautiful outside, and it feels so bittersweet.”
Rebecca, a sixth-grade teacher whose classroom has recently transitioned to remote learning, says the drop-off in connection at night has proven the most difficult for her: “When I force myself to get off the phone and try to fall asleep, I replay the last time I hugged someone—13 days ago—in my head.”
It’s not surprising that the anxiety and stress of the COVID-19 pandemic are often hitting us before and after our daily activities or during breaks, says Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles. “Even in quarantine, we actually do have routines that occupy us—whether it is homeschooling, cooking, cleaning, laundry, working from home, sleeping, or other activities—and when we are immersed in those, we are in a familiar space of sorts and our minds are occupied,” Durvasula told Vogue. “The challenge is when we lift our heads, especially when we think about the future.”
So how can we deal with this new kind of malaise, which appears at any old time? “The best way to cope with the sudden onset of negative emotions is to be as prepared as possible for them,” New York–based psychotherapist Allison Abrams told Vogue. “That way, each time they come up, they will get easier and easier to manage.” As well as simply knowing and acknowledging these feelings, Abrams suggested “healthy, nondestructive” distractions like “watching your favorite episode of Seinfeld, binge-watching mindless reality shows, or playing games online, especially ones that allow you to play with others, which may also give you a sense of connectedness.”
Now that I know 6 p.m. is my trigger, I try to make sure I have something on the calendar for that time every weekday, whether it’s a Zoom happy hour, a game plan to tackle a complicated recipe, or the most recent episode of my new favorite show. The world has changed immeasurably, along with our thoughts and feelings about it, so for now why not offer ourselves compassion (and the occasional guilty-pleasure TV series)?
Originally Appeared on Vogue