Coping in a Pandemic

Nothing like a good pandemic to bring on the stress, right? The coronavirus of 2020 provides all the elements for you: You feel a lack of control of events going around you; there’s little predictability for you to hang onto; you worry not only about yourself, but also about loved ones who may become infected; you worry about your kids’ education and future; you get frustrated and lonely from social isolation, physical distancing, and wearing a face covering.

And then there are media reports that describe increased cases of people suffering emotional problems from it all. The reports say that more and more people are seeking professional psychological help; research documents all sorts of mental health problems – depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, outbursts of anger, guilt, jealousy, envy, insomnia – as a result of restrictions imposed by the pandemic.

Are you doomed? Certainly not! Yes, the pandemic poses coping challenges for you, but that’s what life is all about. You can meet the challenge!

Before we talk about how, please keep in mind that when you’re surrounded by all the messages and reports that we mentioned above, you are at risk of “buying into them.” That is, reading about emotional problems that can arise from the pandemic, you begin to assume that it’s inevitable you will be victimized by those problems. You become caught in a self-fulfilling prophesy: (1) the pandemic is increasing mental health problems; (2) you decide, “I’m under a lot of stress, so I’m going to develop an emotional problem”; (3) you develop an emotional problem.

We made the same point in the PTSD blog entry on April 20, 2019. We said

When trauma strikes, PTSD is not inevitable. You can cope effectively with the excessive stress and anxiety and go on with your life. In the context of PTSD, it is important for you not to accept any message that says exposure to a traumatic event will automatically make you fall apart. If you’re prepared, and have the confidence that comes with feeling empowered, you less likely to disintegrate in the face of adversity. Consider the following exchange:

Interviewer: “Why are you so stressed?”

You: “I’m worried that since suffering that stressful event, I’m going to develop PTSD.”

What could be worse than developing a stress disorder because you’re worried about developing a stress disorder? You have set the stage for a self-fulfilling prophesy.

OK, back to coping during a pandemic. First of all, let’s review the coping model we often talk about in this blog. The components are simple: Accept the reality of your situation; no denials – hoaxes, conspiracy theories – or other distractions. Resolve to face reality by being Accountable for how you deal with reality; no blaming someone else for what’s going on. If you live today blaming others for yesterday’s mistakes, you will never cope with the challenges of tomorrow. Find some Humility to admit that you’re hurting and may need some help. Reach out to others in a spirit of Empathy; share your concerns with others, be a source of support for others, and discover that you’re not alone.

Finally, develop a Plan to deal with your stress. Make sure your plan encourages you to take actions that provide you with social connections. One of the hardest things about the pandemic is the requirement to socially isolate: No parties, no dining out with friends, no group activities. Maintaining physical distance from others creates feelings of social isolation, and few things are more threatening or disturbing to humans. After all, we are social animals.

With that thought in mind, consider a plan that includes regular “contact” with friends and family through platforms like Zoom. These are far superior to the static contact of something like Facebook. There’s nothing like real-time contact with another that allows you to see others’ facial expressions while you hear their voices.

If your plan includes professional help – and it should if you’re feeling out of control, profoundly depressed, or concerned about harming yourself – look into virtual psychotherapy. One such program can be found at LiveWell-Coaching.com – a counseling platform developed by psychologist Mike Ronsisvalle – that allows you to interact with a real person to help you deal with your stress.

A good coping plan will also include strategies for getting involved in service projects that allow you to help others. Such involvement will show you that others suffer like you, that you are not alone, and that you have empowerment strengths you did not realize. Let those strengths emerge from your supportive actions in service to others.

Here’s the bottom line about the pandemic: As is true in any other challenging situation, the pandemic does not automatically make you helpless to meet the challenges it presents. Don’t put yourself down with self-criticism – “I’m too weak to deal with all this.” – or excessive dependency. You are not weak; you are not evil; you are not helpless and dependent; and you are certainly not alone. Let the challenges of the pandemic spur you into productive action to take care of yourself and serve others.

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