Don't Worry About Meltdowns —They're A Normal Response To The Pandemic

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When we first got word that things would be shut down, I was in the car with my boyfriend. I was listening to the voicemail from my kids’ school as we were parked outside a gas station. He looked at me and said, “You are freaked out. So am I. It’s okay.”

Only, I didn’t know if it was going to be okay. Suddenly all I wanted to do was stay locked up inside with my kids, which is what we did.

The next day, I got up and did my work while they played video games all day, ate all the food in the house, and were loving their life. Nothing had really hit them yet and it almost seemed like they were in some kind of adventure.

My youngest spilled red Gatorade on the carpet right before dinner, and I lost it. I mean, lost it, in a way that wasn’t called for. Here was my son scrubbing the small red blotch on the carpet with all his strength because his mother was kneeling in the corner crying, one hand on the carpet steamer.

That was my first pandemic meltdown.

I’m still not sure what came over me. All I knew was, I felt it coming. I’d made up my mind I was going to do it and there was no way I was going to try and reel it in. Kind of like when you get a text or email that makes you go off: you know if you just gave it time to simmer, you’d make a better decision, but indulging in your current emotions is so much more satisfying even though you know you may regret it.

I had another one a few weeks ago. We’ve been living this new life for over seven months now. I know what the hell is going on (well, as much as anyone can these days), but that didn’t keep me from losing it when I walked into our favorite burger joint to pick up our lunch order on a Saturday afternoon.

We always used to go to this place every weekend. We’d all get the same thing, sit at the same table, and I felt like it was the one time during the week I’d get all my kids’ undivided attention.

But this was the first weekend I’d been there in months, and the sight of the pandemic changes — all the tables and chairs gone, the dividers, the jugs of hand sanitizer, the lack of music playing over the speakers — sent me over the edge.

I couldn’t catch my breath, and the tears started to flow. I couldn’t grab our bags of food fast enough, and as we were eating in the car, I could feel myself break down.

I went from being excited to do something we used to do, even if we did have to eat in the car, to wishing I’d never stepped foot in the place … even though I had known what to expect.

Pandemic meltdowns are a thing, and it’s okay. These moments are hard on all of us.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve gotten “used to” this, or you’ve started a new hobby, this pandemic can send you over the edge without any notice. And you aren’t alone.

The Wall Street Journal reports that meltdowns happen when we feel out of control, and when “we no longer have the emotional resources to deal with the stress. And they are typically triggered by something small and unanticipated.”

So, if you find yourself being able to keep it together while your child needs you help on a Zoom call when you are trying to reach a work deadline, yet having a fit when you see a wad of hair on the bathroom floor, you are in good company.

The WSJ goes on to say there is actually a positive spin on these meltdowns — they allow us to get rid of the built up tension and emotions that we’ve been carrying around with us.

Tal Ben-Shahar, a psychologist who specializes in the science of happiness told the WSJ, “A meltdown is the body’s natural mechanism to let go, to cleanse itself of painful emotions. It lets us reset.”

The experts tell us it’s fine to blow off some steam as long as we aren’t camping out and hanging there all week–it’s important to hone in and think of some things that will make you feel better, like talking to a friend or going for a walk.

There is a little guilt I’ve felt following each of my meltdowns, but I do always feel better and a sense of release afterwards. However, there’s an art to a healthy, stress-relieving meltdown. If your anger and frustration is hurting those you love, or you are throwing things and hurting yourself or the walls in your house, you probably aren’t feeling any better.

Having more meltdowns since the pandemic is not at all abnormal, and you’re definitely not alone. So the next time you feel one coming on, enjoy the release without feeling guilty, know it’s normal, and then do something that feels productive. I mean, how can we not be falling apart under the weight of everything that’s happening around us? This is a stressful, scary time, and there are going to be moments when we just can’t carry it all.