Staying Calm During Coronavirus: How Therapists Are Coping

Mental health practitioners share their personal self-care strategies and tips.

Posted Mar 26, 2020

 Aw Creative/Unsplash
Source: Aw Creative/Unsplash

You’ve probably heard the common directives (perhaps from your own therapist) for self-care during coronavirus: exercising regularly, reaching out to others virtually, etc. I’ve been trying to follow these tips as well. But something I’ve found that’s been really helpful? Listening to '90s rock.

I’m not sure why the strains of Third Eye Blind and Matchbox Twenty have been so soothing to me, but playing this Spotify radio in the background has been a balm to my nervous system. Curious how other mental health practitioners are coping, I reached out to my network. I received numerous strategies and tips in response. Some felt like grounding reminders in terms of meditation, self-reflection, and mindful movement. Others—such as watching superhero movies and teaching the family to play Nintendo 64—were less expected. Still others were also unexpected but felt somehow self-evident when I read them (e.g., enacting boundaries, personally and news-wise). 

I’ve divided these strategies up into categories (some have been edited for length). I’d also love to hear your own self-care tips in the comments section below. 

Meditation, mindfulness, and going inward

  • One tip is to use the time for self-reflection. What are you finding sets you off, angers you, or saddens you? Try to reflect on what it is that made you feel that way. What makes you content and happy? What do you need more or less of? What is working in your life and what isn't? When you go back to "normal" life, if and when that happens, what would you do differently? –Rebecca Liebmann-Smith, LCSW
  • It’s been helpful for me to get reacquainted with my breath—to remember the breath as an anchor and as a model of resilience—during these challenging times. Rituals of yoga and meditation have been invaluable—plus, the occasional dance break and/or silent scream. –Eve Blazo, LMSW
  • I’ve been amping up my meditation for sure. Working remotely 9 to 5 and busy every minute, I’ve been playing serious mantras as background all day, such as this, this, and this. –Mara Gordon, LMSW
  • Hiking every morning and journaling: both new coping skills. I work at a residential treatment center with adolescents so my job will not close during this pandemic as we're considered to be providing essential services. –Johnna Jackson, ACSW
  • One integral part of my routine is writing a gratitude list every day. I’ve been doing this for years, and it has been incredibly helpful in keeping me in a place of hope. –Spencer Gerber, LMSW
  • I've been taking some deep breaths and going outside, but going down side streets that are less populated and walking slower, using my senses to take in all that's around me. I have no agenda and I have no destination. I just breathe and walk and embrace the sunlight or fresh air. –Rebecca Forer, LMSW

Fun and pleasure

  • My wife and I were always music lovers, but we’ve recently started collecting vinyl. Listening to a record on vinyl has been like re-learning how to listen again. This physical relationship to the music is a cliche among audiophiles but it is nonetheless true. The sides of each LP are intervals with their own climates and moods. There’s no skip button on our record player, just play. –Daniel Ryan, Cht, Crt
  • For me, because I've been at my parent's house during this time, something that has been fun is going through old electronics/games/toys/etc. that we've kept in storage throughout the house. My family and I have had a lot of laughs—my brother and I teaching my parents how to play Nintendo 64, and all of us doing Play-Doh competitions where we try to make the same thing and see whose is best. I know a lot of other people who also are hunkering down at their childhood homes and doing the same! Nothing like a little blast from the past. –Kiera Muscara, LMSW
  • I’ve been reading comics about superheroes that fill me with hope and inspire me, like Spiderman. I’ve also been watching some anime that I haven't had the opportunity to view due to work (I've done this with friends over webcam too!). –Antonio Rodriguez, LMSW, CAS

Connecting with and helping others

  • I'm going to say, aside from all the expected things (putting on pants even though it's tempting to hang out in PJ's all day, etc), I've found that engaging in mutual aid and reaching out to support my neighbors has been really centering. I think I came to the realization that I needed to feel a sense of agency within my relationship to COVID, and helping folks who are affected is my way of taking some control back in that relationship. –Mary Dumler, LMSW
  • My #1 strategy is staying connected to friends, family, loved ones, colleagues, and community through text, telephone, and videoconference throughout the day. –Candice Souza, LMSW
  • Because connections to others are so vital to my well-being and what drives me in life, I’ve been reaching out to friends I usually casually text and don’t see face-to-face with so that we can FaceTime or talk on the phone instead. In this age of being on our phones constantly, talking face-to-face or hearing friends’ voices and carving out a longer set period of time to talk in a day makes our connection feel deeper and more intentional. –Zoey Peresman LMSW
  • My girlfriend and I have been having mini dates indoors, like special breakfasts and playing board games, window iSpy, and charades. We’ve also been participating in virtual "game nights" with friends by playing JackBox Games and "Trivia Crack” (a free mobile trivia game). I’ve been trying to find ways to help my friends and family manage their own sanity by hosting virtual happy hours, stand up, and or simply hanging out via video calls. –Antonio Rodriguez, LMSW, CAS

Pets and animal love

  • I am currently working as a social worker with a small not-for-profit Home Health Care agency and every day I have to help elderly clients, their family members, and our home health aides manage their anxiety. I feel an obligation to stay strong. For me, that means meditating for a half-hour daily supplemented by listening to meditation podcasts, daily exercise for about 40 minutes on a mini trampoline, and watching "puppy porn" before bedtime. Puppy porn is a generic term I use to describe YouTube videos about puppies, kittens, really any animal. I particularly find it helpful to watch videos of dramatic transformations of rescue animals, typically animals that are near death but have their lives turned around by diligent and caring caregivers. –Leslie Mantrone, LMSW
  • My go-to strategy has been being very present while walking my dog and giving her extra pets and cuddles! Also lots of virtual hangouts with friends and loved ones. I’m working in a hospital so I’m still going to work. –Daianara Lynch, LMSW
  • This goes without saying for me—but spending more time with my dogs has been extremely grounding. –Diana Barone, LCSW

Yoga and movement 

  • I have the luxury of having a large-sized room where I can practice yoga and dance. Dance is a free form—more of a dynamic meditation that allows me to follow my body and what it needs, rather than telling it to create a shape or form. If it’s difficult staying motivated, I found paying for the online classes helpful. Even if it’s $5 for an online class, it gives me an incentive to actually participate, compared to having the tabs on my computer open. –Anna Velychko, LMSW
  • I’ve been using online streamed yoga classes—I recommend Lisa Anzelmo, Emma Poole, and Rika Henry—and morning prayer and stretching routine. –Kayla Schwartz, LCSW
  • My number one tip: yoga every day, if possible. I've been doing an hour a day and it's so helpful. I use this podcast. –Rebecca Liebmann-Smith, LCSW (Note from Julia: my favorite studios are all offering affordable online classes. I highly recommend checking them out, no matter where in the country you are: HealHaus, Dou Yoga, and Jewel City.)

Setting boundaries 

  • I am trying to deploy all the usual suspects and I have decided to be super clear about my boundaries in terms of what I can and can't do for others. Sometimes this causes some friction or initial hurt, but I just try to specify: "This is just the beginning; a lot is and will be asked of me personally and as a therapist, so I have to be very clear with this to others as of now. It's not intended to hurt your feelings, but I understand if it seems strict or a big departure from what I have been able to do previously." And I try to offer alternatives: "I can't do X, but I could do Y. Would that work for you?" –Pia Wallgren, LMSW
  • Another tip: limiting social interactions to the times you feel social. Just because you're available on your phone or computer all the time, doesn't mean you need to respond if you don't feel like it. Put the phone aside, do what you were doing, and decide to respond when you feel like it. –Rebecca Liebmann-Smith, LCSW
  • I’ve been limiting my news consumption to no more than 30 minutes a day. I do this by setting 10-minute timers when I start reading/watching it and turning it off when the timer rings, and indulging in this only three times per day. –Alexandra Mager, LMSW
  • I tend to be pretty positive anyway, so I’m not one to worry too much. But when I do start to freak out I remind myself how much the planet is healing right now and that thought makes me so happy. I hope that this period of abstinence can have some good and long-term effects that we, globally, can be inspired to continue. –Jolie Gorchov, LMSW
  • I’ve been keeping myself informed but also limiting how much I’m reading about all the craziness so I don’t overwhelm myself! –Daianara Lynch, LMSW

Establishing a routine

  • For me, number one has been establishing and maintaining a routine that is as close to “normal” as I can do. So that means logging onto my remote working “office” at 9, taking lunch at 1, and not checking work emails/engaging in work after 5 p.m. Even though I’m working from home, I can’t allow my home to become a place I only associate with work. –Spencer Gerber, LMSW
  • I’ve been showering at the same time every morning, making my bed every day, and scheduling remote hangouts the same way I scheduled in-person hangouts. –Alexandra Mager, LMSW

Which of these tips resonated with you? Are there other activities you’ve found to be soothing and grounding? Let me know in the comments below.