- Partners in Change
A Healthy Psychological Approach to COVID-19
Ann L. Date, Psy.D. LP
The COVID-19 presents several challenges including concern for our health and the health of others, disruption in our typical schedules and routines, uncertainty regarding future containment measures, as well as financial and employment instability for many. Much has changed in a short amount of time.
It is normal to feel anxiety in response to a threat. Anxiety helps us take necessary steps to protect ourselves and others. Too much anxiety, however, can have the opposite effect. Rather than taking helpful steps to reduce the threat, extreme anxiety can drive behaviors that can make the situation worse. We call this the problem about the problem. Or generating “dirty” pain to try to overcome “clean” pain.
Pain is inherent in living. We get sick, loved ones die, we have economic downturns, and we encounter crises. This is a normal part of living, no matter how abnormal the situation. We call this “clean pain.” An important step to increasing resiliency and coping with difficult situations, is to be open to the pain life hands us. Openness prevents us from reacting unskillfully to problems which can create “dirty pain” – or more pain than the original situation created. Openness also prevents us from avoiding or denying problems, and it compels us to respond effectively. After all, not responding in a calm and thoughtful manner will create more problems.
To be open to life’s pain means allowing ourselves to feel what is there – whether it is sadness or anxiety or anger – and feeling that feeling without judging it as good or bad. All feelings come and go. That is a promise. So, when we have intense feelings, we may want to name the feeling “I’m having feelings of anxiety” and then allow ourselves to feel the feelings as they rise and fall. And fall they will. No feeling lasts forever, not even overwhelming fear.
To be open to life’s pain also means behaving well, even though the world isn’t behaving as we would like it to. Regardless of the level of stress and uncertainty, we should tend to our physical needs of eating, exercising, and sleep. This is to not only to take care of ourselves, but also to make it so we can take care of others.
People who survive tremendously difficult situations are often those who are the first to give to others. Even with social distancing in place, we can spend more time with loved ones and we can engage in activities that can help the community in general such as grocery shopping for an elderly person or calling a friend who is in distress. Our ability to behave well and to maintain equanimity in these conditions requires deliberate and intentional re-commitment many times a day. Our children, our partners, our friends and co-workers will benefit immeasurably. Research shows that in families, businesses and groups that are experiencing anxious turmoil do much better if even just one person in the group is emotionally well-regulated.
Finally, the way we think about crises is important. We can think we are doomed and give in to acting poorly or not acting at all. Or we can think of crises as opportunities for us to grow stronger, to help one another, and to start or deepen our practices, such as prayer and meditation. And we can make sure we continue, or start good physical health habits such as exercise and better sleep habits. We can be grateful for what we do have, even if we are surrounded by loss. With each breath we take there is opportunity for good things to happen.
And yet, sometimes, despite all our best efforts, we need additional emotional support from others. If you are feeling this way, you are not alone and we hope you reach out to supportive family, friends, and spiritual and religious connections.Professional help is also available thanks to modern technology.Many counseling services can offer teletherapy. Teletherapy is done over the internet using a live video connection. It can also be done using a telephone if you don’t have internet access. You can check with the Hope Portal for agencies in the community who might offer this service:www.myhopeportal.com. And you are welcome to call us, we have been conducting secure teletherapy for over a year now. Our number is 989-832-2165 and our email address is email@example.com