When Our World Turns Upside Down: Unprecedented Global Upheaval and Personal Powerlessness

Compiled by Edith Johnson, LMFT 

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Note from Carol: Hey friends! You may or may not remember, but we published this article during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although we are doing way better than when it first started, its effects remain, and we still experience other changes, stress, grief, etc. After all, it’s the circle of life! So take a read, as this info is never outdated. You may find a thing or two that’ll help in whatever season you find yourself in 🙂

Our world has changed in just a few days in ways that we have no control over. Most of you as international students have traveled long distances and invested a lot, whether financially or otherwise, to obtain some treasured education to better your lives, your families, and/or your countries. It seems like a button somewhere between Pause and Delete has been pushed that you have no control over. This can be scary, confusing, overwhelming, and disappointing to say the least.

Some students have been looking forward to graduating soon and won’t be able to celebrate with friends and family. Others have to return home and don’t know if/when they might be able to finish. Others might not know where to go because they aren’t allowed to go home. The rug has been pulled out from under all of us. As someone described it, not only has the rug been pulled out from under us, but it has been shaken violently while we’re still trying to cling to it. The changes are huge and happening very quickly.

This leads to a great sense of loss. Grief is a very natural response to loss.

Tangled ball of emotions graphic

Credit: Artwork by H. Norman Wright

Deep sadness at not being able to keep going to class, stay working/studying on campus, or even have time to say goodbye to friends, among the many other things that won’t happen as you had planned. There are also concerns for your family back home and huge financial stresses. Feeling overwhelmed, disoriented, and even angry in addition to deeply disappointed are normal responses to a very abnormal situation. Remember: nothing like this has happened in more than 100 years. The Tangled Ball of Emotions graphic shown here can be helpful in understanding and discussing your grief.

Grief not only impacts us emotionally but physically. It can lead to loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, fatigue, and even nausea. Emotionally, these circumstances can lead to all kinds of anxiety, depression, and fear. Let me assure you that it’s normal if you experience any of these.

Taking care of yourself and reaching out for help are important at times like this. Like a natural disaster, it’s more difficult when everyone else around you is going through the same thing instead of just one or two people grieving.

We need one another at times like this even as we keep physical distance.

How Do I Develop Resiliency to Help Me Get Through This?

While many things may never be quite the same, they’ll not always be this stressful for most of us. Be kind to yourself and others. We’re all stressed, but it’s no one’s fault. While mistakes have been made along the way, most, even government leaders, have never been in a situation like this before; we’re all trying to figure things out as we go.

1. Stay connected with your support system and build an even bigger one 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦

This will mostly be virtual unless you have made it home with your family. Think of several people to talk to and check in every day. Who can you reach out to and encourage? Who encourages you that you can connect with? Physical isolation is necessary, but emotional isolation is not necessary or helpful.

2. Exercise 👟

No matter how small your room is, figure out how to move. This will help you to physically stay healthy as well as emotionally. If you can get outdoors and take a walk, a jog, or sit in the sun, these are healing and refreshing activities. During the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, the patients in hospital tents who were taken out in the sun during the day had a much higher rate of recovery and survival than those who were kept inside all the time. We need vitamin D (a supplement can help if there isn’t sun available) and the enjoyment of nature. Even if you can only afford to sit at a window and look outside, spend a few minutes doing that each day.

3. Process your emotions, don’t stuff them 🗣️

Some people say, “Just don’t think about it and it won’t bother you so much”, but that makes it worse, not better. We often start with shock: many of us are shocked at the speed with which our world has changed and all of our security and routine has been taken away from us. Acknowledge your pain, your fear, your anger, your sadness. Grief can trigger many different emotions and each person experiences change and loss differently.

Write, talk, or draw about your emotions…get them out instead of holding them in. Psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said, “Grief needs to be witnessed in order to be healed.”  It needs to be shared in order to be witnessed.

4. Anxiety is a normal response, calming is possible 🙏

How do you reassure a child who is anxious or upset? Talk calmly, quietly, and reassuringly to them. You can do that for yourself as well. Self-talk is so important. “We will get through this.” “I can grow through this” “Most people are going to be ok”. Truthful statements to counter extreme statements. Other ways to manage anxiety are deep breathing, listening to peaceful music, drawing, playing with a child in your family, enjoying nature, etc. Do your best to calm yourself and those around you and let others reassure you.

5. Limit screen time and information overload 📵

Too much news can be overwhelming. Some information is necessary, but too much is overwhelming and anxiety-producing. Find a good book to read, play games with roommates and/or family, play music, sing or listen to music, etc.

6. Develop a daily routine 📅

It’s easy to waste time, stay in bed, and spend too much time playing video games or watching TV.  Plan times into your day for as many varied and necessary activities as possible: cooking and eating healthy food, cleaning, gardening if you have a yard, exercising, reading, and interacting with family and friends. Keep living as much as you are able to.

7. Spiritual practices 🕊️

Worship and prayer, faith in God, and trust in Him at difficult times can bring immeasurable peace and hope.  If you are a believer in the God of the Bible, He is your hope and He tells us not only to expect trouble, but that He’ll be with us and guide us in the midst of it: John 14:26-27; Matt 28:20b; Phil 4:6-9; Prov 3:5-6.



If you’d like prayer or have questions about any part of this, please reach out to the person who shared it with you. As we walk together, we must not only survive, but grow and hopefully thrive again. We don’t have to go through this alone.

Resources Related to Resiliency During COVID 19 Pandemic

For Children:
-Julia Cook, Children’s author, has just (the other day!) come out with a new book, especially for young children, on the coronavirus, available on YouTube.
-Excellent resource, including a comic for older kids on understanding COVID-19.

For Adults:
Inspiring article for adults on how to maintain our spirit, our sanity, and our physical bodies, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For University Students:
How to handle anxiety during COVID-19.
-An article on the emotional impact of campus closures.

Details related to Grief:
An article about coping with grief and loss.

Very Important Information for Leaders:
How to lead through rapid unexpected change.

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