Physically distancing (my preferred term for social distancing since it is by far more accurate regarding what we are tasked with doing) is difficult. I don’t care how introverted or extroverted you think you are, humans are social creatures at the end of the day. Being this far apart from one another is difficult.
In addition, humans really enjoy routines. While certain changes are healthy and necessary, many of us are creatures of habit. So, it is legitimately difficult to suddenly be contained to a very small perimeter. While we must do what is necessary during these times, there is no need to act cavalier and pretend that this isn’t difficult.
So, I have thought of some coping skills that might be able to help!
1. Validate your feelings
This is my number one skill. Based on Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) principles, emotions crave validation. When we don’t validate our feelings, they often grow. A good example of how this happens is when someone is angry, and we tell them to calm down. Of course, they don’t calm down. The opposite happens because telling someone to calm down is invalidating.
If you want to feel your emotions calm down, try validating them. Many people make a false dichotomy between emotions and thoughts. However, we actually need both to experience true wisdom (another DBT principle called the Wise Mind). Your emotions are incredibly logical. While we do not necessarily need to act on our emotions, we do need to practice validating them and sitting with them.
Give this some time. You have every right to feel the way you do right now. Many of us (myself included) feel terrified because we have loved ones who can die from coronavirus, we could die from coronavirus, we might lose our employment, we might lose our housing, etc. There is every reason to feel frightened right now and it is okay to feel how you feel.
Make sure to at least not invalidate your feelings as they may actually grow until they have your full attention.
2. Reframe the situation
I have been viewing this as a weird World War III to make this more tangible for myself. Instead of sending our young people off to war, we ask them to stay home for the good of their country. Instead of building tanks and war machines, we build ventilators and research effective treatment interventions. Instead of war bonds, we’re asking people to donate to food pantries and relief programs.
But because the enemy during a pandemic is invisible to the naked eye, people lose sight of why we’re doing what we’re doing.
Try using a reframe that makes the most sense to you. By making this more tangible for ourselves, we can cope better because our actions (which drastically deviate from normal behavioral patterns) suddenly have a clearer context for why we’re doing what we’re doing.
3. Find people you can confide in
Right now, we can’t confide in everyone because everyone is very sensitive right now (which is okay). But I would encourage everyone reading this seek out some people in their lives who they can talk to. Even if it’s over video chat, we benefit from being social still.
It is the same reason why support groups are oftentimes so helpful to people working on their mental health. You’re connecting with someone who shares your experiences and thus can feel immensely validated, seen, understood, and accepted.
4. Spend time with an old hobby or pick up a new one
Hobbies are awesome and I wonder if in the age of smart phones we’ve neglected our hobby development. Now, I understand that we cannot do some of our hobbies right now.
Two of my favorite hobbies are swing dancing and resort skiing. You can imagine my grief. You can laugh, but I definitely had to spend some time crying over the temporary suspension of these hobbies. Fortunately, I am also a knitting and crocheting freak and have been reveling in my ability to knit for hours at a time, multiple days a week. The shawls! Just imagine all the beautiful shawls!
For anyone interested, there are tons of free YouTube tutorials for all sorts of crafty activities. You can also read e-books and e-audiobooks for free from your library! Most libraries these days have an app that you can download any book you want to your phone. Plus, the Colorado libraries have been very obliging in hunting down pretty much any book I have ever requested (which has resulted in a much more robust sci-fi e-book and e-audiobook selection, you’re very welcome).
Don’t forget that even the simplest of hobbies can be healing and good right now even if it’s just reading, honing your music skills, good old fashion boondoggle, or making knotted army wristbands.
5. Stop reading the news for just a day
I would never discourage totally disconnecting from the news in this case because the updates on what’s going on are important. However, you’ll be okay if you miss a day. Pick a day this week where you’re going to totally unplug from the news. That might also mean taking a break from social media.
Plan what you will do instead so that you won’t be tempted to sneak a peek. Go for a walk, try a new hobby, do an old hobby. Just take a break.
Secondary trauma is when we feel traumatized from someone else’s trauma. So even if you haven’t personally experienced trauma from coronavirus, well, technically you have actually simply by reading the news and being alive right now.
So unplug for a day to let your brain rest.
6. Do anxiety relieving activities before bed and totally unplug
I recommend doing this regardless if there’s a pandemic or not. Good sleep hygiene is where you have a regular routine you do before bed. Consider starting your routine a little earlier right now and stop reading the news and social media two to three hours before you go to bed.
Focus on something else even if it’s a funny TV show. Personally, I’ve been watching comedy specials on Netflix before bedtime. There is something very relaxing about laughter being the last thing I’ve really done for the day before falling asleep. It is also stress relieving.
So give it a try or make a routine that works for your unique personality and situation. It’s okay if it’s simple. It’s supposed to be simple because you’re trying to help your brain shut down for the night.
7. Just rest and don’t focus on being productive for just an evening (or a whole day if you can)
As a society, I believe we’ve forgotten the importance of just resting and being. We focus so much on goal making and job tasks (partly because of the corporate nightmare machine many of us are forced into for necessity to survive).
So when we’re now told we have to sit around more and chill, I believe many of us feel an increased anxiety because we suddenly think we’re not being productive anymore.
This is just not the case. We need to rest. Especially now. I wrote about this in my previous blog post and I’ll revisit it here; now is not the time to burn the candle at both ends.
Your immune system requires rest to function at its best. Moreover, everyone has trauma brain right now so most people right now are feeling increased fatigue.
I think a lot of people misinterpret this as going into a depression. While I will always say we need to stick to our routines of showering, eating, and doing what we need to do for the day, I also tell people struggling with depression to take time to rest.
So regardless if it’s a depression, trauma, or whatever it is for you, take some extra time to rest. We need to reset some of our expectations right now.
When I struggled with severe trauma a few years ago, I noticed I had a smaller daily emotional bank account so to speak. I had enough emotional resources for my activities of daily living (ADLs) and one other extra thing. So, I would plan accordingly.
I learned it was important to spend my emotional resources every day to fuel my inner psychological economy. However, I also learned that there were serious repercussions for over drafting my resources (i.e. spending more than what I had available).
I was sick all the time. It was horrible. On top of feeling chronically exhausted from trauma brain, I had difficulties thinking straight and would experience emotional breakdowns that would put me on my ass because I’d already spent the emotional energy elsewhere which I could have used to cope.
All this to say, it is okay to just rest sometimes. Your body and you brain will thank you for it.
My challenge for you is to pick one day this week where you can just rest, whatever that means for you. A day where you won’t push yourself for any reason and you can just slow down. If one day is too much, then try one afternoon/evening.
8. Breathe and consider developing a breath check in routine
In my opinion, breathing is the best coping skill. When we panic, we often forget to breathe. It’s kind of amusing when you become aware of it because it’s one of the most backwards things the human body does.
So turn on your mindfulness skills and start to tune in to when your lungs are feeling tight or your breaths are feeling shallow.
My favorite breathing technique is where you dump all of the breath in your lungs in one huge exhale right away. Hold your breath for as long as you can while your lungs are in a collapsed state. When you can’t hold the exhale any longer, let your lungs expand naturally on their own. You’ll notice you suddenly can take a very full, deep, long breath in.
Right away, repeat the exercise without holding your breath at the top. Focus on that exhale and holding your breath at the bottom.
This is because most of the time we take on breath in and then take tiny shallow breaths when our lungs are already inflated. So forcing your lungs to exhale can help you breathe properly again and is the primary breathing technique I teach.
Repeat this exercise at least three times or as much as you need.
Try setting an alarm on your phone to remind you to breathe like this three times a day. This will help you develop a mindfulness around your breathing and you’ll see how often you really are holding your breath!
Plus, doing this is also considered coping ahead with stress before it arrives. It’ll keep you feeling more relaxed and, hopefully, just a little bit more stress free.
These are very difficult times globally right now. There is a lot of trauma going on everywhere which means there’s even more secondary trauma going on everywhere too.
It is okay to feel afraid. Your fear is likely trying to tell you something important about your life and it is okay to listen. This doesn’t mean we panic and discard our rational thoughts. However, we must acknowledge how we feel.
There is nothing wrong with you for feeling the way you do right now, whatever that might be.
Try, each day this week, taking emotional temperature with yourself just to check in on yourself. You are your greatest ally! Whatever you find that you’re feeling, practice self-compassion and self-kindness and self-patience. Take your time and be a friend to yourself right now.
As always, this blog is an opinion piece and is not meant to take the place of an actual mental health professional. I am currently offering substantial needs-based discounts to anyone in the state of Colorado as I am seeing all clients via telehealth at this time. I have also brought back my free consultation to help with the cost.
I am also not the only counselor doing this right now! So if my style doesn’t seem to suit you, please know there are thousands, if not millions, of other counselors/therapists/psychologists/etc. who can help you in your mental health needs.
While we must be physically apart, let us remain close with each other in kindness of spirit and compassion. Let’s face this together and support one another as best we can.
I hope these skills are helpful to my wonderful readership and I will be writing more in the weeks to come!