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  • Writer's pictureJohn Reilly

Are you feeling incompetent lately?

I’m anxious and don’t feel I’m doing anything right.”

“I’m not doing anything right, that makes me feel incompetent”

“I’m incompetent . . . that makes me anxious and depressed . . . that makes me incompetent”

If you find yourself with this feeling, know that you are not alone. But remember this, feelings while strong, don’t always reflect reality, but we often think they do. There are times when patients come into my office feeling distraught and questioning their own strength and competence. This has been particularly a common theme during COVID-19 when performing our roles (ie parent, spouse, employee, caretaker, to a parent, etc.) well is under constant assault. Many people that I have been speaking with are under a tremendous amount of self-inflicted pressure to perform in these roles yet feel like they are not doing a good job. When I point out that “while this week you are feeling terrible about yourself, last week you were telling me a few things that went well and you were feeling good about yourself - this week it’s like that never happened.” This invitation to reflect often leads to a discussion about a particular difficult challenge that didn’t go well that the person is using to define their overall competence.

When one is under stress they can often feel that they are the only one feeling that way. When I encourage people to share these feelings not just with me but with others, they are relieved to hear that they are not alone in questioning their competence as they try to navigate the demands of their various roles.

For those parents who now find themselves having to oversee homeschooling and keeping their kids engaged, they often feel like they are failing, and if someone is homeschooling while having to perform at a job, the situation is even worse. Throw in worries about job security, self health and that of our families, financial concerns, potential caretaking demands of an elderly parent...the stress can be daunting. And it’s understandable.

It’s important to remember, if you were competent before COVID you probably are now. If you feel competent one day or week and not so on another, those can be the ever shifting feeling states that occur during stressful times. Don’t let those feelings define you.

Tips for keeping things in perspective:

  1. Talk with others about how you are feeling and how they are feeling - it's good not to go at this alone.

  2. Don’t just work all the time. Get away from the screens and computer and do something fun and/or frivolous. In order to stay balanced, we all need times of regression.

  3. Remember that this time will pass and you will be back to working in a more familiar way, and with that will come appreciation for how nice normal and familiar is.

  4. Your overall competence is not dictated by one-off situations and criticisms so don’t give them too much power.

We will all get through this, perhaps a little stronger, and hopefully a renewed appreciation of our “normal.”

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