A Collective Case of COVID Culture Shock

Emily Freeman, one of my very favorite authors and podcast hosts, often talks about the power of naming. Whether we are naming a dream or a source of pain, giving something a name often brings a sense of relief. Not knowing what to call something can keep us in the fog, while knowing something's name can help us to move into the next stage of planning or adjusting or grieving. At least now we know what we're calling this thing.

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In recent weeks, BILLIONS of articles have been written about coronavirus and COVID-19. And no wonder. In one way or another, we're all feeling and trying to make sense of the impact this virus has suddenly had on our lives and world.

I'm not a therapist or a psychologist or psychiatrist or doctor, so I don't get to clinically name things. But I'd like to offer an observation based on my experience moving overseas and back.

I believe we're suffering from a collective case of COVID-19 culture shock.

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Culture Shock is a phenomenon typically experienced when you move to a new culture. The symptoms of culture shock include varying levels of fatigue, irritability, anxiety, depression,  negative thoughts, feeling of sickness, and self-doubt. Sound familiar?

These are the same feelings many, many of us in the world are experiencing these days, whether someone in our homes or families is sick with COVID-19 or not. Most of us (at least at times) have felt some level of fatigue, anxiety, depression, fear, disorientation, and/or frustration as we've been adjusting to constantly shifting new realities. While many of the changes won't be permanent, we don't really know how long the current crisis will last and we've lost the sense of thinking we know what the future will hold.

Cue all the Culture Shock feelings.

This actually makes a lot of sense. When my husband and I moved our family of 5 to Peru in 2011, we had to learn new ways of grocery shopping, banking, transportation, education, work, cooking, cleaning, and relating to people. We were separated from our family and friends and church back home. While the experts prefer to call it "Culture Stress" or something else prettier than "Culture Shock," it's all the same. It's stressful to adjust to so many changes at once.

Right now, in the days of COVID-19, we are all learning new ways of shopping, working, educating our kids, relating to people, managing businesses and personal finances, and staying healthy. And we're physically isolated from our friends and families and churches. On top of that, our plans have been disrupted and our schedules are completely out of whack. We may not be learning an entirely new language, but we're learning about new ideas like social distancing and mitigation and flattening curves.

All that is a recipe for culture shock just as much as moving to a new country. In many ways, it's even harder because none of us planned for this viral disruption. And unlike when we moved to Peru and could learn from others about how to live there, this new world we find ourselves in is still unfolding. There are no experts on this new world culture, because this new culture doesn't exist yet.

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So, how in the world is this helpful?

Because it gives us perspective and permission. Perspective because people have survived Culture Shock many times through the millennia, and permission to be patient with ourselves as we adjust. It helps us understand why we feel so off-kilter and out of whack. The ground has shifted and we aren't sure where we are. But it's okay.

When we were getting ready to move to Peru, I often imagined Culture Shock would be like jumping off a dock into a really cold lake. Knowing it's going to be freezing when you jump in doesn't keep it from taking your breath away. It just helps you know you aren't dying when you can't breathe at first. (Or for a while.)

Here in 2020, we didn't jump into a freezing lake after psyching ourselves up for it. We were knocked in by a virus that we didn't see coming. It doesn't change how hard this weird season is, but it makes me less critical of myself for not being able to keep it all together.

It also reminds me to take comfort in the truth that God's love hasn't changed. God's faithfulness has not faltered. God's grace is never in short supply.

God is not in shock.

God is not surprised.

God is not fatigued or grumpy or confused or bewildered or anxious or depressed.

By God's grace, as we cling to Him and rest in Him, we will be okay.

5 Rest in God alone, my soul,
for my hope comes from him.
6 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I will not be shaken.
7 My salvation and glory depend on God, my strong rock.
My refuge is in God.
8 Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts before him.
God is our refuge.
Psalm 62:5-8

And all God's people said, "Amen."