We are living with uncertainty beyond anything we have experienced in our lifetime thus far…a global pandemic is a very scary time. As a psychologist I’m used to helping my clients work through their anxiety and some principles from anxiety management can help you during this crisis.
I’m guessing you don’t need more toilet paper to hoard, but you could probably use some better resiliency skills! Here are 10 steps to build up your emotional strength and coping during this crisis.
- Accept that our lives are going to be uncertain and changing rapidly for the near future. Humans don’t like change—we do better when we have predictability and stability. Embracing the unknown and creating a new normal is going to be our reality for the next few weeks or months ahead. Dealing with chronic change can bring up emotions such as fear, anxiety, helplessness, disappointment, and sadness. Acknowledge these feelings then turn towards acceptance of what is happening in the present moment. Create some simple routines and structure even if that means doing so day-to-day.
- No one knows what we are doing right now. We are all winging it! We are all struggling with varying degrees of anxiety and fear, and hopefully doing the best we can under the circumstances.
- Have compassion towards yourself and others given that we are all navigating this new territory. We may be feeling irritable, angry, and distracted—these are classic signs of increased stress level. Show some grace towards others and yourself knowing we are all figuring this out.
- Social distancing doesn’t mean social disconnection…humans have a strong need to be connected to each other. Having strong connections with others has significant positive mental and physical health benefits. During these times, we need our circle of friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, more than ever. Some of our main centers for community are closed right now—schools, universities, workplaces, places of worship, gyms. This is another disruption in our daily routines, but luckily, we can stay connected to others through FaceTime, texting, phone calls, Facebook messenger, Snapchat, etc….we may need to work harder to stay connected but it is very much work that is well-rewarded by the comfort, familiarity, and support we can receive.
- Practice detachment from news and information. Our brains crave information, especially in times of uncertainty. We feel like if we have more information, we have a better sense of control. However, there is so much information out there. Some of it is false, some of it is hysteria-inducing. Focus on reputable sources for this information—Center for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) are known for providing solid information to the general public.
- Focus on the basics…are you getting enough sleep? Is it possible that you might be dehydrated or need to eat? Have you taken a shower or brushed your teeth for the day? Simple daily tasks can serve as healthy distraction and make us feel more in control and settled.
- Look at the good that is happening right now. Medical professionals are readied and prepared for dealing with the crisis cases they are now handling. Communities are coming together to offer support, sharing of resources and goods, and looking out to take care of their most vulnerable members. Scientists are rising to the challenge to create more effective test kits and treatments for COVID-19 including researching for a vaccine. We can give back to others too, which can help others as well as build our own sense of security. This can be as simple as checking in with a neighbor, letting friends know you are thinking about them, or finding some way to help in your community.
- Create something…write, paint, craft, sew, puzzle, draw, sing, cook. Being creative is a healthy distraction because it can help us engage and is inherently a mindful activity, creating something forces us to be in the present moment.
- Get stuff done….even during a crisis the everyday tasks of preparing food, taking care of children, doing laundry and other household chores needs to happen. What is the next small thing that you can do in your day?
- Spend some time in nature…we need fresh air and walking with a family member or dog is good for everyone to get some exercise. Research heavily supports the calming impact of being in nature, especially if we are surrounded by trees. This can be difficult to do depending on climate but even a short walk outside can be therapeutic.
Dr. Jennifer (Panning) Contarino, PsyD
Founder, Mindful Psychology Associates