Are you feeling worried, tense, irritable, sad, angry, fearful, powerless, lonely and hopeless right now?
If so, you are not alone in dealing with the uncertainty of the global pandemic.
Intense emotions like these make perfect sense during such uncertain times. Our daily lives have been turned upside down. Schools are closed, many people are suddenly working from home, friends and loved ones are losing jobs, and people we know and love are being infected with the Coronavirus.
It is downright confusing and the disruptions to daily life are destabilizing at best, leaving us in the lurch, dealing with uncertainty.
1. Learning to stay positive in tough times
While we cannot control the course that the Coronavirus will take, we can control how we respond to this situation by learning how to better manage our feelings.
Coping with uncertainty is possible using a variety of coping skills geared towardself-care, self-compassion, acceptance of uncertainty, distraction, helping others within the rules of social distancing.
Dealing with anxiety can be daunting, but it is attainable by creating and maintaining the human connection in new and innovative ways and coming together as a community to support and encourage each other as we go through this difficult time of fear and uncertainty.
In order to assuage the maelstrom of feelings being experienced by our fellow community members, my colleagues at the Lukin Center for Psychotherapy and I would like to share the expertise and the tools we have acquired during our years of experience.
2. Remember, a little bit of anxiety alerts us to potential danger
Anxiety is a normal reaction to a situation in which we fear for the safety, health, and wellbeing of ourselves and others.
Anxiety, and fear, alert us to potential danger so we can mobilize to find solutions to the problems we are facing. Practice meditation as a stress-reduction break to restore your calm and inner peace.
An unfortunate downside of the fear response is that when triggered, it can lead to a significant increase in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, releasing stress hormones and other chemicals responsible for the fight or flight response, which prepares us to handle life-threatening situations.
While the current crisis is frightening and overwhelming, the fight or flight response is counterproductive, and ultimately leaves us with heightened feelings of fear, and sometimes panic of dealing with uncertainty.
When this happens, we may become “hijacked” by our intense feelings, which can cloud our ability to think clearly and logically and impair our judgment.
Essentially, such a crisis and difficulty in dealing with uncertainty can cause a total disconnect between thoughts and feelings, often leading to maladaptive behaviors, such as an exclusive focus on the perceived danger, incessant watching of the news, panicked purchasing of supplies that leave little to no resources for others, decreased concentration and focus, sleep and appetite disturbances, and increased isolation and feelings of loneliness to name a few.
3. Calming the sympathetic nervous system
While the COVID-19 virus is cause for great concern, and social distancing and contact precautions must be taken seriously, extreme anxiety and panic are counterproductive and actually hamper our attempts to cope.
Taking steps to calm the sympathetic nervous system will help us to engage our rational mind when thinking about and dealing with the stressors we are all currently facing.
The first step to combating the fear and anxiety, alongside dealing with uncertainty being triggered by the COVID-19 virus crisis is to learn ways to manage and regulate some of the intense emotions that we may be feeling right now.
One of the main objectives is to use the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body and mind. Things like practicing breathing, relaxation, and medication can flip the switch, turning off the danger signals and putting a stop to the fight or flight response.
Some more general strategies for dealing with uncertainty include the following:
4. Limiting exposure to news coverage
Constant exposure to a variety of sources of media throughout the day triggers the fight or flight response and increases that overall sense of panic.
Using the amount of time you spent engaging in the media prior to the Corona Virus Crisis as a gauge, try returning to this pattern again, rather than watching the coverage all throughout the day.
Along these same lines, limit yourself to engaging with more credible sources of information such as information from the CDC.
Bombardment by the media coverage, which is often inaccurate and very alarmist, can cause intense feelings of fear, which are often likely to be out of proportion to the situation. Above all else, when feeling panicked by the media coverage, try to remind yourself that feelings are not facts.
5. Creating a structured routine each day
When dealing with uncertainty, a structure can provide us with a sense of normalcy and enable us to feel some semblance of control over our days.
With this said about dealing with uncertainty, remember that this is a time of great transition, unlike anything we have ever experienced before. Therefore, it is important to be patient and kind to yourself as you figure out the best ways to manage the many competing demands you will be facing.
My colleagues at the Lukin Center and I hope that this information is helpful as we all navigate this uncharted territory.
Remember that if you are struggling and want or need additional support, virtual therapy is a really helpful option. If you are in a crisis, please call a local hotline for immediate help. Be safe and stay healthy.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Dr. Lukin is an experienced licensed clinical Psychologist and is the director of the Lukin Center for Psychotherapy with two offices in Northern, NJ (Ridgewood and Hoboken). He specializes in menâ€™s issues and coupleâ€™s counseling. He has worked with people of all age groups as well as their families. He supports his patients and gives them practical feedbacks that help them cope with their personal challenges within the Cognitive Behavioral (CBT for individuals) and Emotionally Focused (EFT for couples) frameworks. He is a member of the American Psychological Association, Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, New Jersey Psychological Association, Northeast Counties Association of Psychologists, New York State Psychological Association, The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy, The New York Center for Emotionally Focused Therapy, and IOCDF - International OCD Foundation.