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Dismantling Your Pandemic Pod

How to Cope When You and Your Quaranteam Part Ways

Getty/Svetlana Shamshurina

Pandemic pods kept you sane while keeping COVID-19 at bay. It's okay to mourn the loss of your pod as you celebrate the world moving closer to normal.

Ana Lopez was a third-year student at the University of Colorado in Boulder when the pandemic hit, and in-person classes were shut down. She was sharing an apartment with friends, but they all dispersed to isolate with their respective families. Now the cocoon Ana has been sharing with her parents will end when Ana moves to Minneapolis in May to start a new job.

Twenty-eight-year-old Sean Jefferson, a software developer in Boston, returned to his parent’s home state of Louisiana when his office closed in late March and employees were instructed to work from home. Sheltering in the city felt risky, and he wanted to keep an eye on his parents, who were seniors and at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19. He brought his girlfriend of six months with him, and the four formed a new family bubble.

Coping in Quaranteams

Across the nation, individuals reached out to friends and family members to shelter from COVID-19. Often referred to as a quaranteam, pandemic pods or bubbles are small, self-contained networks of people who limit their social interaction to one another. In forming a pod, members often had frank conversations about their level of risk aversion, and developed rules and standards of governance.

Their main reason for hunkering down was to protect one another. In doing so, they grew stronger bonds, families learned the value of trust, and they faced annoyances with increased tolerance in order to avoid fall-out.

[Also read: “COVID-19 and the Truth About Happiness.”]

Some members admitted having a love-hate relationship with their pods, valuing the connection yet missing the loss of space and having to adjust to cramped quarters.

Attending an online meeting while one’s teen is screaming at an Xbox or blaring K-pop from the bathroom can try patience. Having parents rise at dawn and noisily prepare breakfast may clash with some young adult’s concept of ideal sleep hours.

And yet, these sudden groupings served a valuable function: they contributed positively to member’s mental health and sense of wellbeing. They added comfort and support during a time when a contagious and potentially deathly illness reigned.

When Pods Break Up

As vaccines start to roll out, schools are beginning to re-open and college students are starting a new semester on campus. Some employers are requesting their employees return to the office for important meetings and in-person trainings. Sean Jefferson anticipates leaving his pandemic bubble and flying back to Boston soon to work at his office a few days per week.

The break up of secure pods creates a sense of newfound loss and grief. One mom describes her college student going back to school as a deep sadness which “left a hole in my heart.” Other parents portray the undoing of their bubble as experiencing empty nest all over again.

Members report missing being part of each other’s daily lives and having someone available to talk with. The house becomes quiet, chores are shared among fewer participants, and there aren’t enough people to play Skattergories.

The experience of letting go of a secure pandemic pod can be painful. Families may worry as each member moves out into the world. Adult children may experience loss as well, as they may miss having a loving parent look out for them, take an interest in what matters to them, or share their wisdom as they confront stress related to work, relationships, violence towards minorities, and political instability.

Change and transition abound as friends and family members depart, yet there are ways to cope. Feelings of loss can be addressed by taking action.

Tactics for Dealing With a Dismantled Pod

  • Accept that loss accompanies change and take time to grieve. It can be therapeutic to cry, be angry, and vent feelings. Pulling out a journal and putting pen to paper releases upset and can shift emotional states. Confiding to loved ones and friends whose bubbles are also rearranging affords room to lean on one another, which can be comforting.
  • Channel worries about safety by adopting spiritual rituals that create meaning and connection. For example, members can light a candle and say prayers for their loved one’s wellbeing. Or construct a visual exercise and imagine family members surrounded by a gold shield or beautiful light. This layer of light and energy can encircle loved ones and impart protection. Another option is to read a poem or an excerpt from a book that uplifts and bridges to humanity. The fact that we all share the same planet, and all deserve good health is a reminder of the ties that bind.
  • Remember that change provides a chance to grow. A quiet home can be a newfound friend offering space to meditate, read without interruption, or hog the remote to indulge in favorite shows without compromising. Some may delight in the sink being empty of dirty dishes or being able to grab the number one hot sauce without having to excavate the bulging refrigerator. The extra time gained from fewer interpersonal demands can be devoted to strengthening a marriage or discovering new interests that bring joy.

Moving forward, be appreciative of the precious time that was shared. The period of cocooning together likely created deeper emotional bonds that will continue to last a lifetime.

Keep reading about coping with the pandemic: “How to Keep Your Sanity During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”