In just the span of a few weeks, the American way of life has gone through a monumental, if temporary, change. The global coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) has caused the suspension of schools, major events and even tourist destinations (including, just recently, the NBA, Disneyland and Broadway). Hand sanitizer has become a scarce commodity. Supermarkets throughout the USA have been raided, leaving empty shelves where hand sanitizer, toilet paper and Clorox use to sit.
Between a rapidly evolving situation, the disruptions to “normal” life and the fear of the deadly disease itself, it’s no surprise that the coronavirus outbreak is causing stress in people from all walks of life. Social distancing and working from home are fast-becoming best practices to avoid infection. If you are feeling stressed, anxious, lonely, terrified or simply stunned during this uncertain time, know that you are not alone. Let’s discuss some practical ways to manage and face your emotions.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
The first step to managing “negative” feelings is to acknowledge their presence as they are, and in a sense, even to embrace them. We tend to think of emotions like fear, sadness or anger as “bad” emotions to be suppressed or defeated. In reality, these emotions aren’t just normal—they are appropriate for the current situation. It’s only when these feelings begin to dominate and control us that they become problematic and unhealthy. It’s okay to acknowledge these feelings. If you have trouble processing them on your own, reach out to people you trust to help you talk things through. Talking with a therapist to help you process your feelings might help make sense of them. If you are struggling, talk with a therapist in person or via telehealth. (Note: our practice now offers remote therapy, i.e. telehealth therapy, in order to help our clients during this challenging time without compromising on safety).
Avoid Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
If you’re feeling exceptionally stressed, or if you’re self-isolating, you may be tempted to deal with these emotions by artificial means (e.g., smoking, alcohol, drug use, overeating). These practices don’t actually help you feel better in the long run—at best, they delay the inevitable, and at worst, they can cause other problems like physical and emotional addictions. Avoid retreating into vices to cope with stress. If you feel overwhelmed, talk to a psychotherapist. If your stress is complicated by addiction, work on it with a therapist that specialize expertise with addiction therapy.
Develop Healthy Habits
When life itself presents unavoidable levels of stress, you can manage that stress more effectively by developing healthy physical and mental habits. This is especially crucial if you must stay at home or if you are self-isolated. Take care of yourself physically by eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep. The local gym may not be a safe choice right now, but there are still options for getting exercise, including workout videos or yoga sessions on YouTube. For developing mindfulness habits, there are numerous forms of meditation that can help you center yourself and regain a sense of calm in the midst of difficult times like these. Fortunately, we live in the age of cellphones and the Internet, so you can easily stay socially connected with friends and loved ones via phone, FaceTime/Skype or even email. Even finding a creative outlet like painting or drawing can nurture your soul. If you must isolate, these practices will help you stay healthy while keeping stress at bay.
Focus on Facts
There’s no shortage of speculation regarding the Coronavirus, and it can be challenging to separate fact from fiction. Some news sources tend to elevate fear by sensationalizing the story, and social media feeds are rife with stories from shady sources. Look for sources that educate you on the virus itself and best practices for protecting yourself. In our opinion, these three twitter accounts stand out as reliable and responsible source of information about the Coronavirus: Scott Gottlieb, MD, former FDA Commissioner, Nicholas A. Christakis, Sterling Professor of Social & Natural Science at Yale and Marc Lipsitch, Infectious disease epidemiologist and microbiologist at Harvard.
Know When to Turn It Off
The down side of living in the “information age” is that the news is always on. Social media, 24-hour news channels and the like can fill us with information overload, which exacerbates the stress. You need to be informed, but you don’t have to glue your eyes to your news feeds. Try a low-information diet, limiting the amount of news coverage you take in that tends to upset you. Take some time instead for self-care; read a good book or listen to calming music. There are even some great children’s books that can help you calm down.
Keep Things in Perspective
Finally, it helps to remember that as disruptive as the coronavirus crisis feels right now, it is not permanent. If we take the appropriate steps to avoid spreading the virus—including social distancing, washing our hands regularly, and avoiding unnecessary human contact …— the virus will eventually cease to be a threat, and life will resume. Remember this is not the first time the world has seen a pandemic, and it won’t be the last. If you become seriously ill, get the medical attention you need—but don’t allow your mind to fixate while you wait for the worst to happen. Use these tools to manage your stress, and you’ll enjoy a better quality of life in the meantime. We can, and will, get through this.