From Crisis to Wellness
Tips from a licensed psychotherapist
© Mudita Rastogi, PhD, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken our world. Things we took for granted, such as blowing out birthday candles, riding a train to work, or giving a friend a hug are now a No-No.
Sometimes it's hard to wrap our brains around what has happened to "normal." So, it's understandable if you have felt shock or frustration or helplessness these last several weeks.
How can we cope better? Here is a collection of my top tips that I share as a mental health professional.
1. Seek Safety
This is a basic human need. The unpredictable nature of the current crisis has bred fear. Currently, people have health concerns, financial worries, changes in routine, feeling cut-off from loved ones, the stress of kids doing e-learning, and just the uncertainty of it all. It feels too much!
To feel safer, get your information from reliable sources like the CDC and the WHO. Take reasonable steps, such as practicing social distance and good hygiene.
Beyond that, ask yourself if your fears are reasonable. Often we fear imaginary worst-case scenarios. Try to tune those out. Engage your entire family in helping each other out. Delegate chores. Plan meals. Play games. Turn to loved ones for reassurance. And see other tips below to increase your sense of safety.
2. Embrace Attachment
We seek security and responsiveness from our loved ones, especially in times of heightened stress. Strong connections help us feel safe and calm our fears. This need is ingrained in all human beings.
During this period of uncertainty, share your vulnerabilities with a few trusted loved ones. Let them reassure you, and vice versa. Phone friends. Do more video chats with family. Hold hands with your partner. Reassure your children that you will be there for them. Answer kids' questions honestly. Validate their frustrations if they miss their friends. Hold worry-free times when you can all laugh together. Do family activities. Create stronger bonds.
3. Control and Coping
A few days ago, a wise friend told me to differentiate between what I can control right now and what I can't. She was right. Much of what we might worry about can't be changed. What we CAN control are our beliefs, attitude and behaviors.
We can choose to feel gratitude for our loved ones. Personally, I feel privileged to have a job that can be adapted by doing teletherapy. And I'm grateful for this bonus family time. I'm not denying my worries. I'm just reminding myself that my fears will not change anything.
Meditation helps. Practicing mindfulness helps us stay in the moment. It allows us to stay with what's in front of us, around us, right now. If we adopt thinking that allows us to focus on what's under our control, we can make it, one day at a time.
Yes, it's tempting to sleep until 9 AM, stay in PJs all day long, or eat bags of potato chips while reading the news non-stop.
None of those are what we need right now! So please maintain a routine close to what you had before. Wake up on time, get in a workout, eat regular healthy meals, and get enough sleep. While working from home, wear business casual clothes to get into work mode. Limit how much news you consume. Engage in creative hobbies or do soothing activities like origami or coloring. It's hard to be inside and in the company of the same people all day, all evening. Give each other space!
And if you find that you're excessively sad, anxious or in high conflict with your partner or family members, seek help from a professional. You can get Teletherapy from home.
5. Create Community
Sometimes, the best way to cope with our individual concerns is to look outwards. Is there a virtual support group you can connect with? Or donate to a good cause? How about phoning someone if they are living alone and can't go out at this time? What about organizing a Zoom party with your friends?
Find creative solutions that build community. Staying home does not need to equal isolation. Turn towards others and build a circle.
What's worked for you? Do you have additional tips or resources? Do share them with me. We're all in this together.