Coping with Coronavirus
As the news about the Coronavirus pandemic becomes grimmer, and governments and businesses issue closing or work-from-home directives, many of us are experiencing a variety of negative emotions.
We feel anxiety in response to the uncertainty of the situation; sadness related to losing our daily sources of meaning and joy; and anger at whatever forces are to blame for bringing this upon us. From a psychological perspective, the following evidence-based recommendations can possibly bolster one’s mental resilience to weather through this crisis.
Firstly, it’s normal to be unsettled and concerned about the upending of life as we know it; we know that humans find comfort and safety in the predictability of the routines of daily living. As our lives have dramatically changed overnight, many of us are struggling with finding ways to deal with the new reality. How we respond to the Coronavirus situation can determine our psychological well-being.
The following science-based approaches can help:
Accept negative emotions
It is important to acknowledge that a lot of anxious thoughts and emotions will show up during this time, and to accept them rather than trying to push them away or escape them. The same goes for sadness stemming from the loss of our regular ways of living, worry about lack of supplies or apprehension about kids getting ‘cabin-fever’.
That’s because research has shown that avoidance of such emotions will only make those emotions stronger and longer lasting. Notice negative emotions, thoughts and physical sensations as they come up, look into them with curiosity, consider them without judgement and then let them go. This is the essence of ‘mindfulness’, which has been consistently linked to good psychological health. By allowing negative emotions to come and go, and focusing on how to spend this time to still include engaging in meaningful and joyful activities, we can get through this; instead of fighting our emotions, we can invest our energy in creating the best possible life, given the circumstances.
Create new routines
Although many people escape from reality by Netflix binging, junk-food indulgence and more concerning increasing their alcohol intake, one must be mindful of over-relying on these distraction strategies. Instead, studies have shown that planning and executing new routines that connect you to what really matters in life is the best recipe for good mental health. Thus, it’s important to establish structure, predictability and a sense of purpose with these new routines. The most helpful routines are the ones that meet essential human needs for competence, meaningfulness and relatedness.
Indeed, it’s good for adults and crucial for children to stick to regular wake-up, grooming and meal times. Where and how everyone works and plays at home should also be planned, while understanding that we all need to be flexible and adapt as needed. Indeed, one can use this time to enrich one’s life. For example, this might be the perfect moment to learn to play that guitar that has been lying in the corner, or to master a foreign language. YouTube lessons abound. You can also teach your children all those skills we often don’t get to share in the era of over-scheduling: craft-work, cooking, laundry, balancing the house-hold budget, even undertaking some repairs and improvements at home are all beneficial.
Also, staying in touch with loved ones is an important feature of the empathetic side of our lives; we’re able to stay in touch now like we never have been able to before. For example, Zoom meetings allow us to contact one-another and engage in virtual get-together’s. Virtual Friday ‘Scharbeutz’ or Sunday Mass, and other religious rituals and celebrations, can now be done virtually on Zoom. In some ways, one might get to spend more time with loved ones living far away than one might otherwise. Even book club can be held virtually. While these types of virtual meetings won’t replace the real thing, they do provide semblance of normality.
Maintaining your physical & nutritional health
While it might be difficult to get to the gym, don’t abandon regular exercise. It can consist of running or walking outside (laws permitted), or even using apps for home exercise; get the family involved. Indeed, one thing that is still available to us, unless we experience complete lock-down, is nature. Studies show that spending time in nature, whether you are hiking or gardening, positively affects psychological health. Make sure, however, that you are observing social distancing guidelines.
Furthermore, science has shown that exercise and good nutrition are directly linked to emotional well-being, so now is the time to also get creative with food. We can get back to the basics with a myriad of recipes freely available online. Children for example could help establish a herb garden, even on a balcony, and learn to tend it and thus reap the rewards in their meals. Remember, if we are expending less energy, we need less food – the better nutritional value and the lesser calorie intake is fundamental.
Clearly, the link between good nutrition and healthy weight, reduced chronic disease risk, and overall health is too important to ignore. By taking steps to eat healthy, you’ll be on your way to getting the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy, active, and strong. As with physical activity, making small changes in your diet can go a long way, and it’s easier than you think! Maintaining your physical health is a key factor in maintaining good mental health.
Reflect, relate and reframe
Trying times can offer an array of avenues for psychological growth and an opportunity to deepen one’s relationships with others in our household and beyond. For example, we might now be more inclined to take time to savour heart-to-heart conversations with family members or friends which can result in stronger social connectedness going forward.
This crisis also offers an unexpected chance to check-in with one’s self. We can reflect one’s life and put things in place for the future (future being the operative word); for example, we can re-examine our priorities and determine what truly matters. As the usual pursuits of status and money are put on hold, where do you find your life’s purpose and transcendence – this could be a very positive revelation. Look to the future for positive change. Please take time to read our page on ‘Resilience and Logotherapy’ – it might help to put things in a bit more perspective. read here >>
Give your brain a rest
Your brain wasn’t made for a marathon. The human brain wasn’t designed to pay attention and be alert for hours at a time. Over millions of years of evolution, human life moved at a much slower pace, in rhythm with the sun and nature. In the societies of our ancestors, hunting and gathering food and tending to the other necessities of life would have only consumed a few hours a day. That left a lot of time for a person’s brain and body to relax, socialise, or be in a state of rest.
Interestingly, the brain is much more active – and more likely to tire – than any other muscle or organ in your body. Evidence shows that your brain cycles from highest attention to lowest attention every 90 minutes in what’s called an ultradian rhythm. Generally speaking, you can only maintain focus for 90 to 120 minutes before it needs to rest. Honouring the natural rhythm of our brains and taking ‘brain breaks’ as part of, not counter to, getting through one’s daily activities, can make a person more productive, creative, and innovative and most important of all, less stressed.
Watch for signs of stress in your loved-ones. Indeed, stress during an infectious disease outbreak can sometimes cause the following:
- Unrelenting fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones, your financial situation or job, or loss of support services you rely on:
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns:
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating:
- Worsening of chronic health problems:
- Worsening of mental health conditions:
- Increased use of tobacco, and/or alcohol and other substances.
Recently, the Federal Government in response to the Coronavirus committed substantial funds to ‘Lifeline’ (Ph: 13 11 14) (https://www.lifeline.org.au/) and ‘Beyondblue‘ (Ph: 1300 22 4636) (https://www.beyondblue.org.au/)which are national organisations who offer round-the-clock mental health crisis support. If you are in need of discussing a stressful situation don’t hesitate to call either organisation.
Here are some ways to give your brain a little time off:
Go outside (if you can)
Research shows that different brain regions are activated when you’re outside. Getting out in the sunshine also increases your production of Vitamin D and serotonin – plus it just feels good. If you can’t go outside, look out a window.
Get physical (personally and the whole family – check-out this YouTube clip/link)
Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your brain. If you can’t get in a full workout, go for a walk, take the stairs, park farther away from your destination. If you’re at work, take five minutes and stretch, do some yoga postures, jumping jacks or push-ups.
Take a nap
According to neuroscientists a brief afternoon nap not only reduces sleepiness, but it also improves cognitive function and enhances short-term memory and mood.
Meditate / Yoga
Meditation increases activity in the brain’s frontal lobes, the rational brain, and reduces activity in the amygdala, the fear centre. Science has determined that meditation stimulates activity in regions of the left prefrontal cortex—an area of the brain associated with positive emotions while decreasing activity in parts of the brain related to negative emotions. I have a daily practice, and it feels an “Aaah” that recharges my brain.
Remember, reducing stress is essential to maximising your brain’s performance
Finally, keep in mind that experiencing stress and negative emotions can have positive consequences. Studies show that people who go through very difficult life experiences can emerge from them with a stronger sense of psychological resilience, rekindled relationships and a renewed appreciation of life. Some describe starting to live more fully and purposefully.
With care and planning, one can stay psychologically strong during the pandemic and perhaps even grow from this transformative experience.
Note: Official names have been announced for the virus responsible for COVID-19 (previously known as “2019 novel Coronavirus”) and the disease it causes. The official names are:
- Disease – “coronavirus disease (COVID-19)“
- Virus – “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)”
Toxic Relationships and COVID-19
COVID-19 has complicated the already delicate dance at home for people dealing with a toxic spouse or partner. The truth is, in a pandemic, toxic relationships can worsen. While what defines a toxic relationship is not necessarily physical violence, the World Health Organization did see a 60 percent increase in women reporting emergency domestic abuse situations in April 2020. The loss of routine, perhaps even the loss of finances can take someone who is already difficult to communicate with and turn up the heat. In turn, our loved one may experience a new intensity in his or her behaviours.
This relationship, during quarantine, simply won’t be sustainable. In the short term, you will need to claim space as your own and prioritize activities that bring you peace. When coronavirus concerns have you staying put to prioritize your health and the health of your loved ones, don’t expect a sudden shift in your partner towards empathy. Anticipate that toxic behaviours will continue and plan for time apart–even when you’re under the same roof.
Now is also the time to protect yourself from developing your own toxic patterns with the people you love. This means respecting the boundaries friends and families have established, whether it’s a request for quiet hours while working at home or a request you keep your distance from someone whose concern about COVID-19 is more intense than your own. This means recognizing that sometimes friends and family will not reply to your calls and texts right away, even if your assumption is that you need them to respond because you’re feeling isolated or lonely.
Creating an unhealthy relationship during COVID-19 may also look like making someone feel guilty for communicating the boundaries they need or deflecting responsibility for emotional outbursts by using pandemic stress as an excuse.
Author: Tim Pratten
Principal CBT Counselling & Psychotherapy
Title: Coping with Coronavirus
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The information provided on this website (www.cbtcounselling.com.au) is offered as general educational content only. The information herein should not be considered as advice, nor should it be used to treat, assess or diagnose a psychological condition, nor should it be used as an alternative to obtaining professional advice, diagnosis or assessment from a mental health professional.
In severe cases of a mental health disorder, including severe cases of any those disorders described herein, or any others such as bipolar disorder, psychosis or schizophrenia, medication may need to be prescribed to the sufferer. Only a Psychiatrist can legally prescribe medications to address such disorders, for example antipsychotic drugs and antidepressants.
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