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Comfort in the Time of Pandemic

Five things to do to better cope.

There are some things that I know as a clinician that I’d like to share in the hopes that they might be even a little bit comforting during these times of fear and crisis. We in New York are well into the COVID-19 pandemic and it has been a little over a week now that I have been home doing video sessions with my patients. I have heard recount after recount of fear and panic in light of all that has occurred and all that continues to happen.

For one thing, one very important thing is that whatever we experience is always through the lens of you—the idiosyncratic individual unique way of seeing and experiencing the world and in that unique manner, we all view things from our very own baseline. Our individual baseline is the point from which we have our own unique and biased perspective. Therefore, if your baseline is already anxious or depressive or cynical or pessimistic or narcissistic or optimistic, we build our perspective from that base which informs how we feel. Our own starting point or emotional baseline can make what we are going through feel much worse. That’s not to say that things aren’t bad, but our baseline might not be helping us cope better.

For people with baseline anxiety, meaning that you are chronically anxious whether or not there is much to be anxious about, you will be viewing the world from that base exacerbated by what is going on at the moment. You will therefore be more highly anxious starting from an already anxious base so you will feel naturally worse. Objectively things might be really bad, but you will be “feeling” and experiencing things more awfully because you are always beginning from an anxious baseline and building from there. For people with an anxiety disorder, diagnosed or not, where catastrophizing is part of the deal, you will always respond to stress by feeling way more anxious and way more entrenched in panic and will experience more distress because of your baseline. That is why some people “lose it” more quickly than others and some feel extra awful going through horrible stuff. It's not about what life throws at you but instead, how you cope.

Five things to do to better cope

1. Reassess your heightened emotions and think about whether your baseline emotional state might be making things feel worse. That’s not to say that you minimize what you’re going through but instead, give a fair assessment of whether what you are feeling might be more distressful than it needs to be.

2. Stay in the present moment, “I’m dealing with all this and perhaps this moment, today, things are actually manageable."

3. Distract yourself in activity. There are things that we have no control over like a pandemic but there are things that we can control like cleaning out a closet, mopping a floor, organizing a room, drawing, ironing, writing, singing, dancing. That’s why people buy toilet paper in times of crisis in an attempt to control something.

4. Crisis is a prelude to opportunity, eventually, for those who think ahead of the curve. Maybe this is a time to think about what it is that you have been dismissing and pushing toward “later” that might be something you may really be longing to do, such as a career or personal opportunity that you didn’t have time to think about before. Maybe it’s a time to think about health and planning to make some positive lifestyle changes.

5. Finally, and probably most importantly, connect with your deeper spiritual core-self. Now might be just the time to look inwardly to what it is that you truly believe and examine the bigger picture. This might be the very best time to reflect, examine, meditate, or pray.

Know from history that things never stay the same and this, too, will pass.