COVID-19 Stress: It’s OK to Be Human

Six mental health tips for coping.

Posted Apr 03, 2020

The Faces/Shutterstock
Source: The Faces/Shutterstock

This is obviously a stressful, traumatic time for all, whether it is economic, medical, mental health, or family issues when on lockdown. When we experience trauma, we have feelings that must be dealt with and processed. This is not the time to pretend that all is fine and suppress emotions. It’s normal to feel afraid and uncertain and anxious. We’ve all had to deal with both good and bad news in our lives, but it is more difficult to deal with uncertainty. When in this crisis with so few answers or solutions, it leaves us with anticipatory anxiety because all the answers are not there yet. The recommendations and advice seem to change as we learn more each day.

I am writing as a mental health professional as I am also balancing my practice with telehealth. Here are six coping strategies I am sharing with my clients:

1. Talk About Your Feelings

It’s a time to reach out to loved ones, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. This is a time to talk about your feelings. It is perfectly fine to say you are scared, nervous, and worried. It’s important to vent those feelings to friends and family. Use whatever technology you have to talk to people who will listen. Then give back and listen back. Validate and acknowledge each other’s feelings. Trauma needs to be processed and not everyone can get to a therapist right now to do this. Sharing your own vulnerability will help others to do the same as we are all in this together. 

2. We Are All Different

It’s important to remember that different people will cope in different ways. Some people, for instance, need to watch the news every day and want to know what is happening as that helps reduce their anxiety. Others become more anxious the more they watch the news. So, just be gentle and nonjudgmental of others and provide empathy for how they are coping. Some make jokes and want to laugh while others are somber and grieving every day. We each have our own way.

3. Stay Away From Toxic People

Stay away from toxic and mean people as they will use this time to project their own insecurities and self-loathing onto you. If you are cooped up with a toxic person, try ignoring the projections and don’t personalize them. Just realize that it’s their problem and not yours. If someone in the family or your circle is irritable and crabby, try to use empathy with them. But don’t put up with any abusive behavior towards you. Rather than engaging in battles, try to walk away and distance yourself.

4. Do the Best You Can

Do the best you can with all the medical advice we are getting and don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t do everything perfectly. We are having to think about things we haven’t thought about before such as wearing gloves to get the mail or washing down the grocery packaging before we put the groceries away, or making a homemade mask to wear out of the house. This is stressful and time-consuming and it irritates most everyone. Be gentle and forgiving with yourself and others.

5. Dealing With Children

Take extra emotional care with children. It is a time to do a lot of teaching, guiding, and empathetic parenting. Young children can’t understand what is happening so it’s our job to carefully explain without scaring them. You can use the simple example of having a cold to explain the virus because most kids have had colds. They understand that when they are sick with a cold they have to stay home, wash their hands, cover their mouths when coughing, etc. They don’t need to know how deadly this virus is. They can understand that the world is experiencing a big bad cold and we all have to take extra care right now, so we don’t get sick. Make time to play. It’s a great time for card and board games for the whole family. Use caution to monitor news coverage that may frighten young children.

6. Determine What You Can Control

It’s a good time to remember the Serenity Prayer whether you are religious or not, the message is a good one: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” When you begin to worry too much, make a list of those worries and divide them into what you can change and what you can’t change. Let the ones you can’t change go for now. Work on those you can. It’s also a time to practice some of your solitary hobbies such as crafting, knitting, playing your instruments, dancing, singing, reading, exercise, and others.

The most important message is to embrace your feelings and talk about them. This is the healthiest thing you can do when you are feeling distraught and anxious. You will notice the tough medical people are themselves saying, “I am scared.” That’s being human. It’s all valid fear about the unknowns and this is not the time to be fake and put a positive spin on something that is just clearly not positive right now. This does not mean you are weak or being a baby or a victim. Strong people embrace and process their feelings.

Find additional resources by the author here.