Are there moments when you stop and contemplate how lucky we are to live in Australia? For our own mental health, many of us have had to tune out to hearing news from other parts of the world, because it’s simply too unsettling hearing of so much unrest. Many countries still in, or again in, lockdown, new virus cases reaching constant epic numbers, civil unrest in countries not typically known for it.
In Australia, we feel like we have escaped much of what the rest of the world are going through. And for those who have friends and family experiencing hardship and uncertainty, those who stay in touch with goings’ on around the globe, or for those who have found unexpected opportunities to thrive during the Pandemic, you may sometimes feel emotions that can be likened to ‘survivor guilt’.
A perfectly normal emotion
Feeling guilty about being okay during these times is a perfectly normal reaction – it’s also part of our evolutionary programming. Feeling survivor guilt means you feel empathy for others who are less fortunate. In an evolutionary sense, empathy allows us to form close social bonds and connections. Basically, it’s what humans are built for!
Everyone’s pandemic experience is unfolding differently. At the worst end of the spectrum are the hundreds of thousands of people who have died, the grief of friends and families, the millions suffering financial hardship, and those whose mental health is suffering. But not everyone is struggling, and this has resulted in a new type of survivor guilt, triggered by not feeling impacted enough by the pandemic.
Understanding survivor guilt
The term survivor guilt is usually used to describe the emotional distress some people feel after surviving a traumatic event in which others have died, such as a natural disaster or terrorist attack.
Survivor guilt can result in a range of emotions – from shame, to a sense of unworthiness, even anger. And when these emotions aren’t processed properly, they can impact our physical and mental health and lead to depression, anxiety and physical illness.
It’s OK to be OK
But it’s OK to be happy, healthy or successful during the pandemic. While mental health advocates are right to remind people who are struggling that it’s ‘OK not to be OK’ during this pandemic, it’s important to remember that it’s also ‘OK to be OK’.
No one should feel bad for being healthy, or being able to continue working. And if the pandemic has afforded you opportunities to thrive, then it’s important to celebrate those wins.
If you are feeling Survivor Guilt
This pandemic is not your fault, and you didn’t do anything wrong. It’s important to remember that. You are doing valuable work – either by generating much-needed activity in the economy, or by helping people in your community. You are lucky to be healthy, or to live in a place that’s relatively unaffected by the virus, or to work in an occupation that can withstand a public health crisis.
Gratitude – a far more constructive emotion
If you find your mind wandering in a negative direction, try writing down the things you are thankful for. It could help place you in a more positive mindset, and allow you to radiate that positivity to those around you. Maybe think about who you can help – either financially, or with something like childcare, or by letting someone unload their worries through a simple chat. Having someone to vent to can work wonders in relieving stress.
Beware the long term effects of allowing guilt to sit with you, and be sure to keep yourself in check by remembering the vital part you play in the scheme of things. Be grateful for the wonderful things in your life and radiate positivity for the people around you who really need it.
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