The mere mention of these critters sends shivers down my spine and can bring immediate itchiness to anyone aware of these pests and their elusive nature. Bed bugs are small, parasitic insects that tend to take up habitation in—you guessed it—the beds of us poor, unsuspecting humans, then feed on our blood when we sleep. They are in the news frequently and may have even sprung up in your area. Perhaps you have encountered bed bugs in your home or in your travels. This has been an epidemic for several years, but when a person is struggling with an infestation it is rarely talked about.
Unfortunately, bed bugs carry with them a certain stigma. There is a misguided perception they exist only in homes or dwellings that are not clean. Also, people may be “bugged out” when they find out someone has a bed bug issue. Perhaps they have read how easily they are transmitted from one person or place to another and want as much distance between them and the other person/place as possible.
At least that’s what many people with bed bugs fear—and what can keep them from turning to others for emotional support.
On top of the sense of isolation people may experience because of bed bugs, they must contend with the simple knowledge that in their own sanctuary, the place they call home, they have been invaded by a near-invisible parasite that feeds on you in your most vulnerable state. Argh! If your skin is crawling just reading this, welcome to the experience of a person living with bed bugs.
Bed bugs may have invaded your space, but they do not need to take up all the space in your head!
Not only is treating a bed bug infestation costly both socially and financially, it can take a serious toll on mental health. I have worked with countless individuals dealing with these pests. I have also had my own bed bug scares, nearly sending me off the deep end. What I learned from others’ experiences and my own is that these bugs don’t simply impact our physical environment; perhaps worse, they invade our minds and can lead to an experience of extreme stress and isolation.
Perusing the internet on the topic of bed bugs could bring any person to a panic, whether they are struggling with the issue or not. My goal with this article is to provide anyone dealing with an infestation with some tips and tools to help them calm down and emotionally cope with their unexpected visitors. Bed bugs may have invaded your space, but they do not need to take up all the space in your head!
How to emotionally cope with bed bugs in eight steps:
- First, know you are not alone. A simple walk around my neighborhood in Philadelphia showcases countless mattresses thrown outside in what may mark a first panicked attempt at getting rid of bed bugs. A simple internet search on bed bugs yields thousands of results, indicating this problem is being experienced by way more people than just you. You may feel like a social pariah when dealing with bed bugs, but the truth is, due to the stigma and secrecy associated with bed bugs, you never know who else is dealing with them. Take refuge in the simple knowledge you are not the only one suffering the insufferable.
- Use some positive self-talk. Say to yourself, “I am a separate person from this problem. This is simply just a problem I am coping with, and it is not my entire life, nor does it represent who I am.” Think about all your positive roles and qualities. Parent, teacher, kind person, clean person—whatever makes up who you are, remind yourself of these things and that you are not just a person who has bed bugs. Each time the thoughts creep back in regarding the bugs, actively change your thoughts. It is not worth it to obsess about them; all you can do is proactively try to take care of the problem, and otherwise try to give your mind a break.
- Get outside. If the weather permits, do yourself a huge emotional favor and go for a walk. Sit under a tree. Bring a book. Nature has the power to heal us and bring us back to our sanity. In this case, it also gets you out of your hellhole of a home! Remember, you do not deserve the stress of these bugs. You deserve a break from the environment they have invaded, as well as a mental and emotional break.
- Remember that bed bugs are not really any different than other types of bugs. Think of them as less dangerous mosquitoes. Unlike mosquitoes, beg bugs are not known to be vectors of disease. Yes, they are gross. No, they can’t kill you.
- Use deep breathing. Breathe in, breathe out … slowly. Count your breaths as you focus on the sensation of breathing in and out. What does it feel like as the breath enters your nose, travels down to your lungs, and then begins to release? See, you already forgot about the bugs. Deep breathing is a form of meditation that helps us focus on the experience of the body rather than the constant thoughts roaming around our heads. Give yourself a moment to stop thinking about the bugs and to relax your nervous system.
- Get some exercise. Exercise has the power to not only increase your endorphins (feel-good chemicals in the brain), but it can get your mind off the problem. Exercise IN your home. Take back YOUR territory while pumping iron and gaining a sense of power and control. If you can’t stomach the thought of spending another moment near the source of the infestation, go to the gym or exercise outside. Special note: Yoga is wonderful for stress and can help you be kind to yourself during this terrible time.
- Tell someone! Don’t keep this to yourself. Yes, it can feel intimidating telling someone about an issue you might feel embarrassed about, but the relief of bringing someone into the experience of this issue can be a huge help and can take away the sense of isolation often incurred when someone has bed bugs. Tell a few people if you can, and make sure they know you don’t want this information passed around. Ask for a hug, if you feel so inclined; physical touch can be comforting.
- Lastly, do everything in your power to get rid of the bugs. Call an exterminator and follow all advice they give. The bugs CAN be beat and you WILL conquer them. Don’t allow the bugs to make you feel incapable and powerless—you are not.
In the end, you will get rid of the bugs. For now, the true goal is maintaining sanity and not allowing the bugs to wreak havoc on both your emotional and physical health. As with many other challenges we face, the worry is the worst part.
© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Alexis Hansen, LCSW
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