15 Mar COVID-19 Response
Note: We will be interrupting the blog series on psychological wellbeing to address concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. We acknowledge that the following information is a lot to digest, and we recommend looking over whatever seems most relevant to you at your own pace. We will continue to update this blog with helpful information and resources as new data becomes available.
As many of you have seen, heard, or read through news and social media, COVID-19 (also known as the coronavirus) has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). As you have also likely seen, there have been a wide range of reactions- fear, denial, sadness, anger, dismissal, humor, and many more.
Perhaps you find yourself not knowing how you should feel or what to do; wondering whether you should be stocking up on essential items in case of quarantine, or whether you should go about your business until the panic subsides. It seems the one common feeling we all have is uncertainty. Uncertainty and ambiguity are often some of the most difficult feelings to sit with, as they take away our sense of control in an already unpredictable world. We often find ourselves searching for answers, no matter how elusive they might be.
Data about the virus and its impacts are changing almost daily at this point, so we’ll do our best to update this post as relevant information changes. This post is primarily about how to manage the psychological effects of this period of time, rather than providing advice or suggestions on medical, social, or financial decisions. While we do not have all the answers, the psychologists at the Chrysalis Center want to provide some tips for coping and common pit-falls to be aware of during these stressful and confusing times:
It is normal to feel varied and complex emotions
There is no “right” way to feel about COVID-19. What is most important is that you pay attention to how you feel and be mindful about how you respond to these emotions when they show up. For example, it is normal to feel fear and a need to prepare, however, responding by buying all of the toilet paper and medical supplies you can find may not be as useful as making sure you are taking the recommended precautions put forth by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). We know that well-being is highest when our emotional and cognitive experiences are working in concert with one another.
Be mindful and make room for your emotional experience
As we must bring our attention to the most basic things we do automatically, like shaking hands or keeping a physical distance, our potential for awareness can increase. We might tend to think of mindfulness as a practice where someone sits quietly and focuses on something like their breath, but the truth is that it’s a way of being and isn’t restricted to a formal practice. You can mindfully notice how you experience your trip to the grocery store.
Attend to your feelings without judgement and notice the intentionality in all that you’re doing. You might notice feelings of fear that there won’t be certain supplies left, or anger that another person took the last item you hoped for, or gratitude that they just restocked something you need, or compassion for the people who are sharing the same space and are worried, or even awe at the kindness of the young person that gave the last of an item to the more elderly person.
Take stock of what matters
In times like these where we are reminded of our own vulnerability, as well as the fragility of others, it can bring to mind the people who matter most to us. Although social distancing may be necessary to prevent spread of the virus, taking time to reach out and express feelings of care and concern to loved ones can be an opportunity to connect, feel supported, and alleviate excess anxiety. We often wonder about whether technology is negatively affecting our social interactions, but this is certainly a time in which it can help us maintain connection without the risk of infection.
Finding ways to connect virtually with loved ones can be very helpful during times of decreased in-person contact.
Be intentional about taking care of yourself
Beyond following physical health and safety precautions, which we strongly suggest that you do, we’d suggest being thoughtful about how to best take care of your mental health. If you are working from home, you may be limited from social contact and you may need to be intentional about connecting with others in safe ways, such as phone, text, video, and other methods. While social distancing may keep COVID-19 from spreading, isolation can have many harmful effects psychologically.
It may also be necessary to adjust your self-care routine to replace activities in which you are temporarily unable to engage. If you have a daily gym routine, you may choose to forgo that for safety reasons or lack of child care, and go for a daily walk or jog instead. If you’re staying home from work or school with others, activities like board games with friends and family might be novel and fun. Practices such as meditation and yoga can be continued from home. If you’re unfamiliar with these practices, now is a great time to learn about them. You could even join an online community in order to do so, accomplishing both the social connection and learning new techniques to nurture your own well-being. During times when uncertainty exists, we can benefit from creating routines that provide a sense of the known; control and predictability. The basics of sleep, nutrition, activity, social engagement, and even time outside can all be worked into a new routine, while our historical “normal” routines may be disrupted.
Take a time-out
It’s challenging, in our world of the 24-hour news cycle and social media, to step away from news related to COVID-19, yet non-stop coverage can be exhausting for us all. It’s useful to set personal boundaries around the time spent watching news or reading articles. One approach might be to choose a few reputable sources of information and check-in during a limited number of times or blocks of time each day. This empowers you to return your focus to other important tasks or life activities that are necessary for our mental health. Providing yourself a buffer of time, from when you wake up and when you are getting ready for bed, that is not news-related can also be helpful. Purposefully engaging in activities that refocus your mind on things that tend to lead to calming or pleasant states provides a sort of psychological recovery.
Intentionality is important during these uncertain circumstances, since the default in our current times is to be inundated constantly with the news. As Jon Kabat-Zinn is known for saying, “We must become mindful of our mindlessness.”
Cultivate other feelings and states
While feelings such as uncertainty, fear, sadness, anger and others are natural responses to this very concerning time, there are additional feelings and states we might experience that can be equally powerful. One potential impact of these upsetting emotional states is to withdraw physically and psychologically into ourselves, but the opportunity is also present for us to reach out psychologically through feelings like compassion.
We are each part of families/friend groups, local, national, and international communities. We’re all in this together, and it can be quite powerful to realize that we are part of communities. Consider ways that you might provide for others during this difficult time, whether materially or emotionally. If you have the experience of others providing something for you, even a kind word or a place in line at the store, then a feeling of gratitude is possible. As mentioned earlier, times of experienced or potential loss can increase our awareness of those things that matter most to us and we can purposefully cultivate feelings of gratitude.
Beware of “black-and-white” or “all-or-nothing” thoughts
Intense feelings, such as terror and rage, can lead to the tendency to think or perceive things in “all-or-none” ways. Jumping to the conclusion that coming into contact with COVID-19 is inevitable, and you are likely to die would be an extreme reaction. So too would be dismissing the risk of COVID-19 and the potential effects it could have to those most vulnerable. According to the CDC, most people are relatively safe, and if they come into contact with the virus will experience mild symptoms. However, people over age 60 and those with certain health conditions are more likely to experience more severe symptoms. More information on who is most at risk, and what you can do to help prevent the spread to vulnerable populations, can be found here.
The real fear of financial stress
While we don’t know the long-term trajectory of the virus or its impact on us in various ways, we know that people are already feeling the financial impact. Some people do not know about their job status, others have been laid off, and those in positions of leadership are having to make difficult decisions that may involve laying others off. The financial markets are volatile, and people are fearful about their long-term investments as well. Everyone’s financial situation is unique to them and their family, and we at Chrysalis are not financial advisors. Nevertheless, we recognize that the fear and stress you may be experiencing about your resources is real and valid. The impact of COVID-19 is not just a potential future physical illness but very real current social, vocational, emotional, and financial impacts.
Seek data from reputable sources, and watch out for false information
Although there is still much we do not know about COVID-19, there is a litany of scientific information (see below) that can help you stay informed. We certainly do not have all the answers, which is why we are providing links to resources that we have found helpful to inform us and our families. We do need to exercise caution, and realize that not everything you see, especially on social media, is based upon facts. Someone confident in their opinion is still merely asserting an opinion, unless there is factual data to back it up. Stick to sources you know and trust.
Chrysalis aspires to be a resource to our community. The intense and prolonged distress created by this pandemic can exacerbate difficulties you may have already been experiencing, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and others. If you are needing additional support during this very challenging time please reach out.