Dear Therapist:

My husband has been taking COVID very seriously. Although he is young and has no health conditions, he basically isolated completely for the first few months of the pandemic. He spends a lot of time online "researching" the illness and spends a lot of time discussing and analyzing it. At the end of the summer, when we had gone so long without seeing any serious illness, he started relaxing a little and going out (with a mask). He even went back to his office while taking precautions.  Now, with the recent uptick in our area, he has gone into full shut down mode again. He can work from home so that kind of makes it easy for him. I just see that the stress and isolation is taking a serious toll on him and if things get worse who knows how that will affect him. I reiterate that we are talking about a 47-year-old with no significant health history. Can you please give me some advice as to how to help him? 

 

Response:

Your question touches on issues of physical health, mental health, politics, traditional media, social media, and philosophy (and likely others). The degree to which each impacts your husband’s decisions will help identify any problems or lack thereof.

Your husband’s actions per se are not an issue that I believe I should address. As there could be many reasons for these actions, they need to be addressed from a much broader perspective.

You only mentioned your husband’s state of mind in a general way. I don’t know whether his stress is in line with his logical understanding of the situation—and the effect of isolation—or if he is significantly more anxious than the situation calls for. Does he feel depressed and emotionally isolated? Has his general mood suffered?

Theoretically, if your husband is viewing the situation from an entirely logical standpoint, he may be of the mind that the more information that he obtains the better informed his decisions will be. In this scenario, if you were to address your questions to Governor Mario Cuomo, he would hail your husband as a hero. Not only is he considering his own health, but he feels a responsibility to his local community and to the world community. He is being cautious, and is being sure to stay abreast of medical developments so as to properly protect himself, his family, and those with whom he may have contact.

“Facts” about COVID-19 are constantly evolving. Apparently, instances of infection for young adults have been rising, as have been adverse effects. Smoking and other newly-identified influences have recently been discussed as risk factors.

Your husband’s actions per se are not an issue that I believe I should address. As there could be many reasons for these actions, as mentioned they need to be addressed from a much broader perspective. In order for me to respond to the mental health aspect of your question, I would need to make a few assumptions.

I would need to assume that your husband is reacting emotionally, and that logic plays only a small part in his decisions. This would mean that he is acting contrary to his intellectual beliefs. I would also need to assume that his need for research is emotionally-based and obsessive, rather that due to his interest in—and legitimate concern about—a popularly discussed subject. In addition, I would need to assume that his emotional state is out of line with his rational understanding of the situation.

You seem to feel that your husband’s beliefs and actions are illogical, and that this causes his emotional reactions to be problematic. I wonder whether he believes that he has a problem. Does he feel that his stress levels are overwhelming? Does he feel isolated? If, to an extent, you are projecting feelings onto him, the emotional impact of COVID-19 on your husband’s emotional health may be less significant than you imagine.

If your husband does have a problem, is he able to acknowledge this? If so, he can consult with a professional for help in managing the discord between his intellect and his emotions. This process can be very short (perhaps as little as two or three sessions) if, for instance, he simply needs to learn how to recalibrate his conscious-unconscious connection. If your husband does not recognize that he has an issue, his emotions may be hijacking his logical thoughts, causing him to believe that his “concerns” are legitimate. This would make it more difficult for you to help him, since he would first need to acknowledge the problem before working on it.

Either way, trying to help your husband to see things from your “more logical” perspective will likely not bear fruit. In fact, it may only more firmly entrench in him any faulty beliefs (those driven by emotions). He needs to approach this from his own perspective with a clear recognition of any problems that he needs to address.

Many people are reacting in ways similar to the way in which your husband is. Hopefully, for your husband this is a one-time issue caused by the specific confluence of events, politics, media, and social and community response, and other factors surrounding the COVID-19 crisis. If so, there should be few if any lasting effects once this crisis is resolved. 

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

 psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer

 www.ylcsw.com / 718-258-5317