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Staying Calm in the Covid-19 World

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

I have conducted close to a thousand sessions since the pandemic started. The response to this all has been almost universal, despite having a very diverse client base. I thought it might be helpful to share a compilation of the trends I have noticed and ideas on how to handle our new realities.

1. The most important thing to know right now is it is okay to not be okay. We are experiencing a collective trauma. As with all trauma, it is going to be packed with emotions and those emotions are going to be changing, evolving and dynamic. Let yourself feel. Your feelings are always okay. Say: “This is what it feels like to feel ____ right now”. Once you have validated yourself, try releasing the emotion. Remember that feelings pass. If you are scared, it is okay. It is but a moment. It, too, will pass. You will not always feel scared. If you are comfortable, try using the technique of visualization. You can imagine a thought or feeling as a train car. Choose intentionally which thoughts and feelings you decide to jump into, and which ones are better left to just notice and then let them pass you by.

2. It’s okay to feel fear. Fear is an essential survival tool that keeps us alive. Allow fear to power your decisions. Stay home. Stay safe. Socially distance. Have a proper supply of food. But do not allow fear to turn into panic. No one functions well or problems solves in the red zone. When you feel yourself start to move from fear to panic, practice self-talk. “I am safe.”

3. Lean into mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment. Take it day by day. When life feels out of control, we can tend to try to predict the future in an effort to prepare for it. Our tendencies lead us to want to dress rehearse tragedy, but unfortunately, this is an impossible feat- the variables are infinite, so there is no way to effectively prepare. Thus, it burns a lot of energy for no real purpose. What you can do is focus on the now, on the facts, and respond to this moment, and this moment alone.

4. Mindfulness can be a coping strategy to reduce anxiety as described in the above. It can also can be a great way to lift your spirits. It helps us derive meaning out of experiences. It relies on our senses. When you are having dinner, try mindful eating. Notice the texture of the food, the smell, savor the taste. If you are walking, notice the crisp air, the feeling of your feet hitting the pavement, the warmth of the sun. Paying attention to these little details allows you to enjoy the experience more deeply.

5. Build a routine. Most of us do well in a routine. We like habit and expectations. Our bodies do better on a sleep schedule. Have a general idea of what you need to structure your day.

6. Find ways to lift your mood. We are all unique, wonderful, creative beings. Right now a lot of the things that we have relied on to bring us joy have been restricted. Find new ways to lift your mood. Go for a walk. Make a nice meal. Read a book. Pet your animal. Play a game with your kids. Watch trash tv. Color. Take a shower. Take a nap. Open the windows. Watch a live stream of a park, zoo, or museum. Meditate. Work out. Plant a garden. Try a new skill. Watch kitten videos. Take a class. Listen to music. Find a new podcast. There is no shortage of (free) ideas circulating, and this is the time to get creative. Bottom line is find the things that make you smile, and then do more of that.

7. Ditch the guilt. Are you eating more than you used to? Yeah, well the advice we have is to make sure we have enough food and stay home. Naturally, we are all eating more. Haven’t worked out? That’s okay, your body is adjusting and maybe you need more rest. Are you not a naturally skilled home school teacher? Well teachers spend a long time learning and perfecting their trade. No one is born into it. Right now our focus should be getting through the days, staying safe, staying healthy. If you notice your inner critic telling you shouldn’t be feeling a certain way or you should be doing more, tell it to take a hike. Forgive yourself and say to yourself (even better if its aloud!) “I am doing the best I can”

8. Keep your space clean. If you are a client of mine, you will know that I do not give advice, really ever, but certainly not as bold as to be clean. But right now, be clean. Clean yourself. Clean your space. Our homes are now doubling and tripling as our work spaces, our schools, our gyms, our restaurants, our social lives. It is important to keep it tidy and organized. As the days have turned into weeks, and may turn into months, keeping our space manageable will become harder and harder. So, it’s important to keep ahead of that. Let your home be your sanctuary.

9. Enforce boundaries. Most of us are not used to suddenly REALLY living with our families ALL of the time. So, just like in the pre-covid world, give yourself permission to establish healthy boundaries and say no to things. If you need time alone in your room, or in your car, or on a walk, let that be okay. If your kid doesn’t want to have family dinner tonight, give them a night off. If you need to say no to the third zoom happy hour your friends invited you to, fine.

10. This one is a big one, but LIMIT your news intake. I am a hardcore advocate of staying informed. But the news is intended to give you a big headline to grab your attention. It is also built on cyclical reporting. The same stories repeat several times a day. This is exactly the thing that someone with a predisposition to anxiety, in a pandemic, does not need. It can exacerbate ruminating thoughts. Pick an information source that you are comfortable with and set a limit. I personally suggest the CDC and the WHO as great sources of real information. New Yorkers, you can text COVID19 to 692-692 and the city will update you in real time of any serious news. It’s a way to stay informed but not be inundated.

11. This goes for social media too. I spend a lot of my career talking about what I call “comparison bias”. The idea is that social media has afforded us a strange window into other peoples lives, even people we don’t know. We scroll and we click and suddenly we are comparing ourselves to that post, and often devaluing our self-worth based on it. We forget what a distorted window it is. So when you see a friend post a story with their family in the front yard seemingly having it all together and you are yearning to be like them, remind yourself it was a posed, filtered snapshot of their day. No one posts the picture of their raging fight with their husband or the time they stormed out because their kid just wouldn’t sit for Google classroom. Comparison Bias was a major trend, and source of anxiety, before Covid. I am finding it even more present now, especially when we are finding ourselves with more time to scroll. So put the phone down. Forget looking into someone else’s window. Choose to look at yours.

12. Ugh, the one no one wants to hear: reduce alcohol and drug use. The “there are only two modes in quarantine: coffee mode and wine mode” is not lost on me. In addition to being a therapist, I am a bartender. My boyfriend owns a bar and my stepdaughter works at a liquor store. I understand the temptation to booze it up, especially when there isn’t much else to do. But do so with a lot of caution. Emotions are high, which is never a great time to use substances. Alcohol quite literally is known to increase anxiety and depression and lowers our abilities to problem solve. During this climate, those things can be a dangerous affair. Just be smart.

13. Fundamentally, the world needs really one thing right now: compassion. Be kind to each other. None of us were prepared for this. We are all hurting, frustrated, scared, lonely, bored among all of the other things that we might be feeling. So lean into kindness. Smile at the neighbor across the way. Paint a rainbow in your window. Donate to charities if you are in a position to do so. Call your mom. Hug your partner. Tell your kids you love them. When everything else is taken away, we all have our humanity still. Be kind to each other. Be kind to yourself.

For now, everyone, just stay safe. We are strong; and we will get to the other side of this. You can also follow me on IG @ANoteFromYourTherapist for additional resources.

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