Coping Advice from Insight

“When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond. That’s where your power is!” ~Unknown.

Many people are struggling with their feelings during this time of pandemic. While we’ve never seen a situation exactly like this before, that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to handle the changes and anxiety that may be surfacing.

Here are a few situations you may be experiencing and some  helpful tips from the psychologists at Insight about how to manage your response to these situations and to say mentally healthy during this time.

Question 1: Fear of contracting COVID-19 and the future.

I am feeling really scared, maybe even a little paranoid about what’s going on. How can I get a handle on this?

This is totally understandable as these are uncertain times.

It’s easy to start, what we call “stinking thinking” where you anticipate and catastrophize everything, no matter what’s going on around you. The “what if’s” can get very intense and very frequent. Quickly, those worst-case scenario thoughts get out of control and that “feels” like its your current reality, when in fact, it is not.

The truth is that unless you’re very sick or in immediate danger, your current situation is not an emergency. It is not necessarily pleasant but it’s most likely safe. As a result, there is no “need” to panic and if you believe this enough your body tends to follow.  The skill to utilize here is to learn to tolerate the discomfort and have the endurance to wait for it to pass, especially since feelings actually don’t last more than seconds. Although this may be easier said than done, there are ways to help you to tolerate this discomfort. Some of these include:

  • You can check in with a family member or friend.
  • You can meditate.
  • Stay connected in creative ways (set up a regular phone chat with a group of friends or co-workers who are now working from home).

Our typical social networks may have been disrupted but perhaps you can find creative ways to stay connected and check in with updates.

Another way to reduce your fear is to limit the news you are consuming. We know that research shows that watching the news also has a positive correlation with depression (and it’s no wonder – most of the stories featured are negative and often sensationalized).  Also consider the sources of your news – some are more credible than others. We are repeatedly hearing that “things are changing by the hour” so you may feel a need to be glued to your phone, computer or TV for updates, but we advise to watch just enough to be informed. If you are safe in your home, the reality is that these announcements won’t affect you the hour the announcement is made and possibly not even the next day.

Question 2: Fears about the economic impact of COVID-19 and the future.

I am not so worried about getting sick, but I have already been laid off. I am concerned the effects of COVID-19 are going to be felt long after the virus has run its course in the form of a world-wide economic recession.

This is a common concern for all of us! So, its’ completely understandable that you’re feeling this way.

History shows us that as a society, we’ve been through other trying times and although this seems unprecedented to us, we’ve been through other challenges – as bad or worse – before. It is unpredictable and spending all your time stressing about the future is futile because it is unpredictable. Stick to what you can do right now…and in the near future.

It may be helpful to remember that we are all in this together. And we (society) works best when we all work together. We can also still have compassion in a world that is scared, which also helps calm people in this state.

Thinking too far ahead can really get you into “stinking thinking”, especially if it is negative. Try to look ahead only a day at a time or a week at a time. When we feel that we’re in crisis, time tends to shrink down for us, and we tend to go into this crisis mode but we also frequently don’t know where this will go, just like driving, so try to slow down and keep your sight on the near future.

Question 3: Explaining COVID-19 and societal changes to young children.

I don’t know what to tell my young children about this. They are affected because school and all activities are cancelled – but how do you explain to them what’s really going on?

This is a challenging topic to cover – especially with young children who have been impacted by the restrictions but who may not fully understand why.

Don’t try to ignore it

It’s important to address the elephant in the room. Don’t try to protect them by not talking about what’s going on. Children are perceptive. They overhear conversations that you’re likely having about the pandemic. Depending on their age, they are most likely home from school and not seeing their friends. They may wonder why their parents are not working or are working from home. Ask them if they have questions. Ask them how they’re feeling. Normalize whatever feelings they do share and let them know that their feelings may change from day to day.

Tell them in a way they’ll understand

Be honest with them within developmentally appropriate age guidelines. In other words, meet them where they are, knowing how your child learns and develops. For young children, use stories, drawings, and play, to explain what’s going on. Help them to understand terms they may be hearing in ways that make it easy for them to understand. For example, a “pandemic” is when many people in a large area get sick.

Ease their anxiety

It’s healthy to acknowledge that this is a weird, and maybe even, a scary time. It is ok to acknowledge that you’re feeling a little stressed about it too, but that you are here to help keep them safe.  Just like when you’re feeling anxious, children will benefit from knowing what they can do to make the situation easier and more manageable. For example, you can say that “ it can be scary to think about getting sick but there are things we can do to help prevent us from  getting sick –  we can stay away from public spaces with lots of people,  wash our hands , be physically active, eat healthy, get lots of sleep,  and  if we do get sick, we’ll make sure to stay home and regularly wash all surface areas around the home, wiping down surfaces to kill any germs. You may also explain that if their grandparents get sick, it could be more dangerous for them so that’s why they can’t hug or visit their grandparents. It’s important to help children to see what we can and can’t control and focus on what we can control. For example, we cannot go and see Nana and Papa right now, but we can Face time call them and ask how they are doing.

You can reassure older children that you are watching the news so they can relax and you’ll keep them up to date on the information that they need to know. Also be mindful of how much you are watching the news as well.  Choose 1 or 2 news sources that you check in on once a day so that you are setting appropriate limits.

Validate their feelings

No one likes to see their child feeling scared or upset but they are allowed to have big feelings too. Be sure to normalize and validate their feelings. This is new for all of us, and it’s a big change. However, we need to remember, everything was new at one time before, and we’ve also been scared before, but we’ve gotten through it.  Use concrete examples they can connect with.  Let them know that there are lots of smart people who are working on this –trying to find a vaccination that will help. We’ve gone through viral pandemics before and every time we learn a bit better how to fight the germs. Right now, we don’t know exactly when this will be over, but it will be over.  It is important to reinforce that Mom and Dad are here to help take care of them until it does.

If they truly seem to be unperturbed by everything, that’s okay too. No need to always probe but be sure to check in regularly.

Keep routines

It’s important that children keep a regular routine at this time – get up at a certain time, have breakfast, brush teeth and comb hair, get dressed. They need time outside every day (if possible). Like us, they need alone time. Try to build in some socializing with their friends – perhaps online or through video chat.

Education

Many parents are scrambling and stressed about their child’s education during this time. While this is important, it is not the most important area for parents to focus on right now. What children need is stability and connection – that’s what will make them feel safe. Children have never learned from a stressed parent.  Sit down with them and ask them about their day. Read together. Make up stories. Play games, do puzzles, build a snowman.

Try to see the opportunity to connect

This is not something we’ve experienced before, and none of us would choose this – but as it is out of our control, maybe we can see this forced pause as an opportunity to take a breath. To examine why is it that we are all constantly running around? We can take this time to be with our families. To try new hobbies or games. It can be an opportunity to connect in new and creative ways.

Question 4: Panic buying!

I am normally not a person to panic but seeing all the long line ups at grocery stores and how much people are stocking up, makes me feel like I should be doing the same too because if the worst really does happen, I might be left with nothing.

Right now, the likelihood of stores running out of food and supplies is really low. Some of your favourite brands and items may not be available but it’s highly unlikely that anyone will die from a lack of toilet paper or hunger.

It’s also easy to get caught up in the herd mentality – where all it takes is one or two people to overreact and panic and then in an extremely short time, this leads to the whole herd panicking. Just like animal herds – all it takes is one animal to panic (for any reason), spooking the rest of the herd resulting instantly in a dangerous and often fatal stampede.

When exploring this, realize that there may have been something to trigger this fear initially, which may be reasonable, but realize that the fear actually can feed itself (just like an out-of-control forest fire). Remain calm, ground yourself, close your eyes if you need to and look and rely on the facts. Watch out for emotional reasoning in this case. Emotional reasoning is when you reason that the emotions you are feeling proves something to be true, even when observed evidence says otherwise. In other words, it is not reliable.  Take stock (objectively) with your supplies and see what you truly need, then if you can, come up with a plan to get it. For example, can you go when it’s less busy, line up at the time of store opening before it’s too full, ask a friend to pick some up for you? Can you have it delivered?

Question 5: Dealing with social isolation

I have only been observing “social distancing” and staying home for a few days and already I am bored and even lonely. How will I possibly get through this if it lasts as long as they’re predicting?

We are social creatures by nature so it’s not hard to feel this way, but this is another area where it’s easy to look so far ahead that we begin to feel overwhelmed.

If you’re feeling bored, this may be a good time to look into a hobby or pursuit that looks at strengthening one or more of your 5 key areas for fulfillment:

  1. Mental
  2. Physical
  3. Social
  4. Emotional
  5. Spiritual

Spending time on your phone or watching TV certainly has its place for many of us. It can be a mindless distraction and sometimes that may be just what we feel we need – which is fine. But it doesn’t actually satisfy or strengthen any of the 5 key areas for fulfillment.

Hobbies on the other hand, as old-school as they may seem, can actually help us to develop or find passions. Pursuits like learning to knit, reading, or painting require us to learn or improve a skill and at the end of the process, we’ll have something to show for it – a scarf, a new knowledge of a subject, or artwork for our wall. With hobbies, success builds success. We want to develop our craft, and produce more or better items, or seek higher knowledge. This does not happen on our phones or online, generally. Having a well-rounded range of interests that strengthen at least one of the 5 key areas will help to ease boredom.

It’s also important to get outside and keep moving if you can. Luckily, we don’t have the population density that other countries have so it’s still possible to get outside and go for a walk or a jog. This will give you much-needed, mood-boosting time in nature and fresh air and the physical activity will feel good and boost your immunity! Just 20 minutes of walking outside can ease depression and anxiety.

And do use your phone, computer, or tablet to keep connected with people – social media, Skype, and other platforms can help you to stay in regular contact with people you are used to seeing often, such as extended family or colleagues.

What if I am just feeling unable to cope – who can I talk to?

You can connect with a psychologist here at Insight in person, as well, we have been set up for online counselling since 2017 and are happy to offer that as an alternative to in-person counselling if you are self-isolating or are more comfortable staying in your own home. Phone counselling is also an option.

If you need more immediate support, you can call (or even text/chat) with various Mental Health hotlines:

  • 24-hour Distress Line, operated by Canadian Mental Health Association:
  • Edmonton (780-482-4357) and rural Alberta (1-800-232-7288)
  • Distress Centre in Calgary (403-266-4357).

If you feel you may be a danger to yourself or others, please call 911.