Psychological adaptation during the pandemic:
During this pandemic period, it’s important to be sensitive to each individual’s and each child’s adaptive style and limits. The Covid, the presence of a silent and invisible threat to our health, well-being, and possibly our lives, has become a chronic threat.
As a species we are well adapted to manage acute stressors. Our Fight or Flight systems are aroused, cortisol levels go up signaling the need for adrenalin, higher blood pressure and elevated heart rate, higher blood glucose, among other things. When the acute stressor has passed, we return to our prior baseline.
However, when stressors become chronic, our biological systems begin to become disoriented. Chronic stress signals a steady need for higher cortisol levels throughout the day and into the evening. Higher blood pressure and blood glucose levels may become more of the norm. The dynamic circadian balance between wakefulness (cortisol) and sleep (melatonin) hormones can become disrupted, impairing the quality of our sleep and and subsequently our body’s repair mechanisms and immune functioning.
On a more purely psychological level, the quarantine puts us in a position of forced passivity, and a significant reduction in the expression our needs for social engagement and exercise. This is a more important factor for children and adolescents who are developmentally focused on these activities, and who have less flexible adaptive mechanisms psychologically than their adult counterparts.
Each person or child’s adaptation to the pandemic is necessarily going to challenge their adaptive style and capabilities, and the external behavioral appearance of their adaptations may look nothing like their general behavior under normal circumstances. More extreme behaviors, or momentary breakdowns (e.g., tantrums), might appear. These may signal a momentary overwhelming of the adaptive system, or a more generalized breakdown in stress management. It is important to distinguish between the two.
As we watch our own and each others’ reactions to the stresses imposed by the pandemic, it is important for us all to be sensitive to the individual and particular adaptations each of us are making, and how we can support our own and each others’ means of coping during this difficult time.
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