Coping During Turbulent Times
Actions to help cope during these challenging times.
Posted Jun 23, 2020
By Mina Yadegar
These have been stressful times with turbulent and painful news, as well as great uncertainty for the future. We are in the midst of a pandemic, financial losses, unemployment, working from home without child care, and the devastating culmination of racial inequalities. Social distancing makes these numerous and ongoing challenges all the more difficult. As a result, many people are currently experiencing significant sadness, anger, loneliness, hopelessness, and anxiety. A degree of some of these emotions is understandable.
There is much we cannot control, yet there are some specific actions we can take to cope during these challenging times.
Identify and validate your feelings
Often when we experience intense emotions, we have natural urges to push them away (e.g., use alcohol or drugs as an escape) or we engage in behaviors that we later regret (e.g., blaming others we love). Instead, try to allow yourself to identify these emotions. You can use your body’s physiological sensations, thoughts, behaviors, and urges as clues to what you may be feeling. For example, excessive fatigue, thoughts of hopeless or worthlessness, and urges to isolate oneself, all may be signs of sadness. By labeling our emotions, we build resiliency to feel them without them taking over our actions, instead allowing us to choose how we want to act. Once we have identified our emotions, try to validate them by acknowledging these emotions without judgment (e.g., “It makes sense to feel anxious because I don’t know when I can return to my job”).
Engage in self-care and be kind to yourself
Taking care of yourself is of utmost importance to both prevent and cope with overwhelming stress. Some basic self-care is to eat well, drink lots of water, get enough sleep (at least seven hours for adults), exercise regularly, and to take breaks from work and screens. Other forms of self-care are different for everyone. I like to take walks and do yoga, while others may prefer another form of exercise, watching TV, cooking, or taking a bath. I also recommend trying relaxation (e.g., deep breathing) and mindfulness exercises. Free guided mindfulness and meditation exercises are available on the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center website. Headspace is also offering free access for healthcare providers and unemployed individuals.
Have a regular routine
Our whole worlds have been turned upside down, and thus keeping a regular routine is beneficial to protect ourselves from further negative consequences. The bare minimum includes having a consistent sleep schedule, morning and grooming routine, and meal times. If you are working from home, keep your regular work hours, and if possible create a separate work area, to preserve your work-life balance.
In addition to including self-care time in your routine, it is helpful to include activities that positively reinforce further activity or uplifts your mood (Addis & Martell, 2004; Jacobson, Martell, & Dimidjian, 2001). Positively reinforcing activities may be different for different people, from taking a virtual dance class to gardening to coloring. These activities can be goal-directed (e.g., doing laundry once a week, walking for 30 minutes a day) to create a sense of mastery. Big goals (e.g., applying to jobs) can be broken down into smaller steps (e.g., searching for job openings, updating your LinkedIn profile or resume, completing a job application). Using a SMART goal (specific, meaningful, adaptive, realistic, and time-bound) worksheet like this one, may be helpful.
Living a meaningful life by engaging in behaviors that are consistent with our values, is also important. Values are chosen life directions that are meaningful to you, and unlike goals, are enduring and may not be achieved (Hayes, 2005). For example, if equality is an important value to you, you may consider donating to an organization that promotes equality. Asking your elderly neighbors if they need help with groceries, may be in line with a value of helping others.
Take breaks from the news
Watching or reading the news is important to stay in touch with the critical information and practical precautions (washing your hands for 20 seconds, when and where to wear a mask). However, the media tends to highlight negative news, and too much media exposure is linked to increased anxiety and stress responses that may negatively impact our physical health (Garfin, Silver, & Holman, 2020). As such, it is recommended to gather your news from reliable sources (e.g., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, your local government) to get the most important information, and to limit news exposure for short periods of time to once or twice a day. In addition, while the media tend to highlight negative news, we can balance this with hopeful news (e.g., the helpers).
Humans are social beings, and social distancing has created a major disruption to our social lives, especially for those who live alone. To prevent social isolation and maintain relationships, be creative in ways to continue to connect with others. This can include Zoom calls, drive-by birthday celebrations, social distancing walks, virtual meals, and outdoor picnics.
If you notice that your anxiety or mood is causing you great distress or interfering with your daily functioning, then please seek additional support. Many therapists are currently providing care virtually via telehealth. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based and goal-oriented treatment that teaches coping skills.
Addis, M.E. & Martell, C.R. (2004). Overcoming depression one step at a time: The new behavioral activation approach to getting your life back. New Harbinger Publications: Oakland, CA.
Garfin, D. R., Silver, R. C., & Holman, E. A. (2020). The novel coronavirus (COVID-2019) outbreak: Amplification of public health consequences by media exposure. Health Psychology, 39, 355-357.
Hayes, S.C. Get out of your mind and into your life: The new acceptance and commitment therapy. New Harbinger Publications: Oakland, CA.
Jacobson, N.S., Martell, C.R., & Dimidjian, S. (2001). Behavioral activation treatment for depression: Returning to contextual roots. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 8, 255-270