It started as a perfectly normal morning—well, as normal as things can get when the whole world has turned sideways. I went to the post office, sanitized my hands, got gas, and sanitized my hands again. Then I decided to grab a coffee at the gas station and sanitized my hands one more time. Finally, I ordered hash browns from a nearby drive-through, went home, and washed my hands. There was only one problem with this picture (not counting all the hand-cleaning): I don’t drink coffee, and I don’t like hash browns.
So how did I end up buying this stuff for breakfast?
At first, I thought I was overreacting to the excitement of being out of the house. Like many of us, I’m isolating and working from home right now. That post office trip was my first time to drive anywhere in five days. Once I ventured out into the not-very-normal world, I went a little crazy and somehow forgot I was a yogurt and green tea kind of woman. Reality returned quickly. I didn’t even finish the hash browns.
Later as I scrolled through my friends’ social media posts, I realized I wasn’t alone in stepping out of character. One friend decided to binge-watch a series she doesn’t even like. A former co-worker—one of the most rational guys I know—tried to cure his sinus infection by heating the inside of his nose with a hair dryer. (This is dangerous and doesn’t kill viruses, so please don’t try it!) My uptight, judgmental older cousin shared a meme that used the F-word. None of us are ourselves. How can we be, when our lives have shifted so much in such a short time?
Psychologically speaking, our weird choices are… perfectly normal. “Under conditions of uncertainty and stress, we don’t engage in our best decision making,” says Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at California State University. “We don’t have the bandwidth to make good choices.” Our routines have been disrupted, we have new worries, and we’re bombarded with information that fuels anxiety. “With our diminished bandwidth, we may just not have the decision- making muscle or even care as much about saying no to the cookies,” Dr. Durvasula explains.
As grief expert David Kessler points out in a recent interview in Harvard Business Review, we’re also mourning what we’ve lost—our routines, our sense of security, and more. Anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one or another deep loss can remember how disjointed life felt afterward. All of us are in that disjointed place right now. No matter how grounded and disciplined we may be, we can’t help being affected by the crisis around us.
Understanding what’s going on inside our heads may not make our quirky behaviors go away. But practicing good self-care can help restore our bandwidth and keep us centered during these challenging days, even if we occasionally go to the store for vitamins and come home with king-sized chocolate bars instead.
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