How Best To Cope During Covid-19

How to cope as best you can during Covid-19
By Debby Fogelman, M.A., Psy.D

Often anxiety comes from fears that are unfounded. Worry about things in the future that have yet to happen and may never happen or worry about our inability to cope if bad things do happen. In our current reality the worry is real, and everyone is worrying to greater or lesser degrees depending on their circumstance. Just like the meme says, we are in the same storm but each one of us is in a different boat. Since we are not omnipotent and cannot change things that are not in our control, we need to change the things that are in our control, and that is where we choose to focus our attention and the choices we make.
Each person is of course different, and so some of the following suggestions may work better than others.

Suggestion 1: Make your bed. It is actively doing something, which combats a felt sense of futility, and the experience of accomplishment activates the reward center in the brain to releases dopamine, a feel good chemical, which will motivate other actions. This can turn apathy into productivity.

Suggestion2: Create structure to your day by designating time for whatever you choose to do. Create a schedule and stick to it.

Suggestion3: Balance your day with self-care, gesture of kindness, fun and productivity. Each of these is how you define them.

Suggestion 4: Learn to breath. In the body there are two systems, the arousal system and the relaxation system. These two systems can’t be active at the same time. Worry activated the arousal system, which manifests as irritability, low frustration tolerance and anxiety. Breathing turns off that system and turn on the other. Set time aside to practice belly breathing. There are many videos that are instructional.

Suggestion5: Utilize your sense of sight, sound and touch to ground you when swept up by anxiety. Listen to sounds of nature. Breathe in the aroma from something pleasant like a fragrant candle or even a spice. If you have a pet then stroke their fur.

Suggestion 6: Use this time to consider how you can become a better version of yourself. Think about the values you admire and strategize a plan how to begin to aspire to emulate them.

Suggestion 7: Set aside worry time. If it creeps in and becomes intrusive imagine worry as being like an impatient child wanting your attention. Tell you child you recognize their urgency but it isn’t an emergency and you will attend to them later at a designated time. At that time set aside 15 minutes engage in your worry thoughts. This will put you in control and you can decide if you want to spend your time with these future driven thoughts.

Suggestion 8: Capture your worry thoughts on paper so they are no longer just in your head. This simple act will reduce some anxiety, just like the act of labeling your feelings reduces some of their intensity. Once your thoughts are written down, imagine they are the thoughts of someone important to you and your role now is to be the voice of comfort and reason for that person. What would you say?

Suggestion 9: Panic and anxiety are normal bodily reactions and they won’t harm you. You don’t need to do anything but sit with them patiently because they will dissipate. All emotions are equal, both the positive and the negative, and just like happiness and excitement don’t last forever, so too don’t the negative.

Suggestion 10: Recognize a human tendency to engage in emotional reasoning and catch your self when this is happening. This is the tendency to believe how you feel is the way things are. Feelings are not fact and even if you feel something with great intensity, it is still just a feeling and not a reflection of reality.

Suggestion 11: It is not helpful to engage in thoughts of “should”, since this generates negative emotions. When ‘shoulds’ are applied to us we can feel like we have failed, and then become angry and anxious. When they are applied to others we can feel they are bad, and we can easily feel victimized. When we are scared, it is human nature to want to generate anger since anger hides fear. So be aware when you find your mind engaging in these thoughts, and when you do immediately replace them with a more compassionate understanding response.

Suggestion 12: If you are focused on predicting a particular outcome then force yourself to consider others even if you believe they are far fetched. Simply engaging in this exercise will create the space in your mind to consider other possibilities that are less catastrophic.

Suggestion 13: Practice gratitude. Gratitude is an antidote to all sorts of negative emotional experiences.

Suggestion 14: Limit reading the news. If you are checking constantly you are likely engaging in behavior motivated by an unconscious wishful fantasy, that maybe this time the outcome will be brighter. The outcome will be brighter in the future but not by compulsively reading or watching news.

Suggestion: 15: Find reasons to laugh. Read jokes, watch comedy sketches. Laughter releases pent up feelings.

Suggestion 16: Engage in self-soothing activities. For many kneading dough and making bread is one of those activities, and this is why flour is in limited supply.

Suggestion17: Teach yourself something new.

I hope this was helpful. This list is in no way exhaustive so please post what you have found to be helpful and share because it may be helpful to others as well.

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