Coping Through COVID-19
Updated: Sep 8, 2020
COVID-19 has thrown many of us for a loop when it comes to day-to-day living, and it is vital that we learn how ride out the waves of uncertainty and fear.
If you are anything like myself, I thought that COVID would be over and done with by July at the latest. It's unsettling to think that this is something that we as a whole are struggling with, possibly the most fearful aspect of it is that we do not know when life will go "back to normal." If "normal" can ever be achieved again. Many individuals are speaking to increased feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression associated with COVID. There is no guide to how to get through this, yet we are all in this together.
It is normal to feel a mix of emotions during this tumultuous time of life. This may even present as physical symptoms and responses such as change in sleeping patterns, shifts in appetite/relationship with food, or perhaps increase in using substances (like alcohol and drugs) to cope. The most important thing that we as humans can do is work to recognize that we are struggling. This may sound simple or obvious, but many people find themselves living with denial or avoidance with difficult topics. Think of the last time you were stressed out. Did you sit with your feelings of stress, or did you do something to take your mind off of it? Now, I realize healthy distraction can actually be a good thing, however, our bodies and minds are trying to communicate to us through stress, anxiety, depression, and all the other symptoms attached to it. It is so important to work to create space for "the messy" aspects of life, as uncomfortable as it is.
Some ways that I find it more tolerable to sit in "the mess" is to talk with a loved one about how I am feeling, seeing if they can relate to what I am going through. I also find value in writing down my feelings in a journal. This emphasizes the importance of compartmentalization, or the act of giving our thoughts a place to hang out. When we do this, we no longer have our thoughts running as rampant on the hamster wheel in our minds, giving us a little more breathing room. We know that all our worries, fears, and stressors have a safe space to live, and there is no need to be constantly thinking about them due to the fear that we may forget them. Lastly, I also love to utilize art as an expressive, nonverbal way to connect to how I am feeling. Sometimes I am able to create something I really resonate with; other times I create something that looks kind of chaotic, which likely mirrors what I am feeling internally.
I always try to keep in mind what it is about COVID that feels so activating for so many people. The matter of the fact is COVID mirrors trauma. If you think about it, COVID parallels so many aspects of traumatic situations -- fear of the unknown, feelings of being trapped, uncertainty on when this will end, powerlessness. It would be wonderful if we could all shift towards compassion with ourselves around this, but that's actually a very difficult thing to do. I tend to lean towards shifting to a posture of tolerance towards self as opposed to jumping right into self-compassion. Perhaps saying something to myself like, "In this moment, things are difficult, and yet I am doing my best to see that I cannot be perfect. All I can do is what I am doing now, and that has to be enough."
The hope of acting tolerant towards self is that we will eventually create new neural pathways, leaving criticalness behind us as we move towards neutrality, tolerance, acceptance, and eventually compassion for self.
All right. So lets get to some skills that can help with coping through the chaos of COVID. Here are some of my favorites:
Square breathing. This one helps calm down our autonomic nervous system through controlled, deep breaths. This image, from zencare.co, depicts a step-by-step visual on how to do this deep breathing exercise.
First, you take a deep breath in through your nose for a count of 4. Hold for a count of 4. Breathe out through your mouth for a count of 4. Hold for a count of 4. Continue this as many times as you would like. I typically begin to notice changes in my clients and myself after doing this about 3-4 times.
Safe space visualization. This is a wonderful tool to have in the event where you may not be able to physically go somewhere that feels safe, calm, or relaxing. I usually do these guided imagery exercises with my clients in session, but if you would like to do this exercise at home, I would recommend this YouTube video as a guide.
Your safe space is a place that is completely unique to you, where you have complete control over every little aspect of it. It is a place that is always there for you. It can be most useful to visualize this space if you are feeling overly anxious or disconnected.
5 senses grounding. I like this technique for how personalized it can be and how quickly it can orient us to the present. All 5 senses are utilized to help bring us back to the present moment, helping us feel more at ease with our current environment.
To do 5 senses grounding, we start with vision. You will name all the following things out-loud so as to help strengthen your connection to the space you are in. Name 5 things that you can see around you. This may be your clothes, colors of things, objects, or people. Then name 4 things you can touch. Perhaps this is a chair you are sitting on, the floor under your feet, or something you can hold in your hand. Name 3 things you can hear. Maybe you can hear birds chirping, people faintly talking in the background, of maybe even play music for yourself. Next, name 2 things you can smell. It can be helpful to carry things with you, such as mints or gum, perfume/cologne, or an essential oil. Lastly, name one thing you can taste. This can be a drink like coffee or tea, gum/mints (this one can work for both smell and taste, which is helpful), or a type of food.
My biggest piece of feedback to you on keeping a pulse on your mental health is to create space for yourself through therapy. This is such a difficult time of life, but you don't have to go through it alone. Therapy can be a warm, safe environment to express how you are feeling and what you are thinking without judgment. Clinicians at Elevate Wellness are trained on the latest therapeutic techniques and modalities to better be a source of unconditional positive regard for you. Take a look at our therapists and reach out to us for more information or to schedule a session. We look forward to getting to know you.