March 16, 2020 by Dr. Dawnn McWatters, Psy.D.
SUMMER 2020 UPDATE: Please visit the American Psychology Association’s frequently updated Psychology Help Center for useful resources for coping during COVID-19.
Greetings, friends. There’s a lot going on in our world, isn’t there? If you’re reading this, I’m glad you’re here and I hope something in this post will serve you.
By now, I hope you’ve accessed the latest science-based recommendations about how to minimize the transmission of the new coronavirus, COVID-19. I highly recommend you check out this article from the American Psychological Association, which includes coping tips as well as links to the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.
In the midst of this 24/7 media coverage, we can easily find ourselves feeling sad, lonely, anxious, and overwhelmed. Lashing out or shutting down can be understandable reactions from our nervous system’s fight, flight, or freeze defense mechanism and an indicator that we deserve a break. Even a few moments to pause and breathe can make a difference.
Especially now, it’s time to focus upon basic self-care. Strategies such as getting a good night’s sleep, balanced meals, unplugging from electronics, and physical movement are always helpful. Consider asking a friend to support you (from a distance), and check in with loved ones – for their benefit, and yours.
If you have resources to donate, please look for opportunities to assist vulnerable members of your local community. Support small businesses by purchasing gift cards to use in the future. If you’re a family experiencing food insecurity, especially during school closures, contact organizations like the Oregon Food Bank for information on food pantries in your neighborhood.
For those helping professionals or service professionals that don’t have the option of staying home, reach out for help from those around you. Even if it’s uncomfortable. Especially if it’s uncomfortable. What do you need? Meals, a listening ear, someone to stock up the pantry or run errands? Please practice the compassion you are extending to others and direct some of that care toward yourself, if you can.
For everyone, but especially if you’re on the frontline: What are your self-soothing strategies?
Take a few minutes to make a list that you can keep handy, and consider including strategies such as a self-compassion break or self-compassion self-touch. Perhaps you have a favorite poem or piece of writing that you might carry with you to read when needed. You can listen to a favorite of mine, The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry, or Wild Geese by Mary Oliver, each read by the respective poets.
In addition, I just became aware of the “Coronoavirus Sanity Guide,” offered by Dan Harris and Ten Percent Happier, which features a variety of experts, including anxiety specialists and meditation teachers. Check it out!
For those with a history of trauma, situations such as the current pandemic can launch us into a state of heightened physiological arousal. Experiences and emotions may seem intensified, and it’s easy to judge ourselves for how we feel. As best you can, resist the urge. Offer yourself a helping of self-compassion, instead:
This is hard. I’m feeling __________ right now. Quite likely others are struggling, too. What do I need in this moment? Can I offer myself some words of kindness?
The Center for Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) recently provided an article on how to apply the three core principles of MSC (mindfulness, self-kindness, and common humanity) during our response to COVID-19:
“Self-compassion boosts the immune system, it reduces anxiety, and it’s the easiest way to keep our hearts open to others.”
Finally, a suggestion from the field of therapeutic horticulture: Connect with nature at some point in your day, through whatever means possible. If you work at or must visit a local hospital, ask if they have a therapy garden available. Research has shown that interacting with nature can boost our health. For those that don’t live or work near green spaces, do you have access to an indoor houseplant or a window herb pot? Even virtual nature exposure has been shown to have benefits.
Be well, friends. Be safe. And most of all, be kind – to yourself, and to those around you.