Coping ‘the right way’ during COVID-19

While every individual’s specific circumstance is unique, all of us are experiencing a variety of emotions right now including restricted freedom, loss, fear, isolation, uncertainty, anxiety and powerlessness, to name a few.

Some of us may have an increased company work-load … take a moment to think about how you are working and how you are practicing self-care.

Coping the right way is about shifting ineffective coping to more adaptive strategies, becoming aware of our needs and feelings, and augmenting the skills we already possess in order to manage our current situation and the range and intensity of emotions that accompany it.

Many of us have multiple responsibilities at home, including children, groceries, meal prep, caretaking others, work, etc. We may have to share not only our time and attention, but also our workday space.

Conflicting priorities have become the non-negotiable norm during the workday, rather than an issue for evenings and weekends. Our access to our usual outlets for relaxation, exercise, entertainment, and sustenance has been severely limited.

Ask yourself, what are you doing to manage during this stressful period?

Some of us may have an increased company work-load and are working harder than ever. If that is you, take a moment to think about how you are working and how you are practicing self-care.

Are you:

  • Taking breaks from work to refresh yourself?
  • To be effective, breaks should be intentional and planned rather than incidental. Frequent, short and scheduled help you bring a fresh lens to your work.

  • Eating at regular intervals?
  • Be as nutritionally mindful as possible. Intention and preparation trump convenience when it comes to the challenge of snacking at home.

  • Maintaining a regular evening sleep routine?
  • Consistency in when and how you prepare for sleep is even more important right now with the flexibility of working from home may disrupt normal patterns. Sufficient sleep is essential to maintaining focus and clarity.

  • Getting some exercise?
  • If you are only able to manage brief physical activity, aim for some rather than none, and test novel approaches if your usual routines are unavailable or compromised.

  • Selecting calming activities to re-energize and distract?
  • Guided meditations (e.g. Calm, Headspace, Breethe apps), Yoga, stretching, deep breathing, reading, hobbies are key.

Some of us have had work substantially reduced, been laid off, or had to close our company. If that is you, in addition to the self-care essentials above, creating a daily routine is vital. Are you using tools like these to help you maintain day to day efforts?

Are you:

  • Developing daily objectives and writing them down?
  • Goals may be big or small but make steps achievable and realistic.

    What you decide to do is very important. Intentionality in making your plan, deciding what to do and when, enhances our feeling of control. At times of extreme uncertainty and rapid change, we need to create reminders of the ways in which we do have control.

  • Listening to what you are saying to yourself and changing your narrative?
  • Are you hearing yourself frequently say things like, “I don’t know what to do?” “I can’t survive this.” Catch yourself. Say, “stop” and then try to plant a neutral or positive self-statement like, “I am doing my best” or “I can try.” Tune into your narrative and change it are skills and they require practice. It might take several days to see change. Reframing thoughts from worry and rumination to more encouraging self-talk leads to emotional control and positive action.

  • Reminding yourself that you have faced challenge and ambiguity in the past, and you can do it again?
  • We all have. It is helpful to remember how you solved for change before. It is less daunting to realize that the new challenge is simply to increase our hardiness and resilience. That helps maintain the confidence and motivation we need to recognize and seize new opportunities.

  • Approaching routine tasks in a novel way?
  • Intentionally create flexibility in how you are thinking about or doing something differently. Novelty in one area is positively contagious – it spawns curiosity and creativity in other areas. New learning is a wonderful antidote to ambiguity and anxiety.

  • Creating purpose?
  • In our daily routines, we often don’t think about “purpose.” However, when our typical patterns are interrupted, purpose becomes essential. Purpose provides meaning as well as structure. It may vary from hour to hour or day to day. It may be self-oriented or other-directed. For example, it might involve learning a new skill yourself or teaching a skill to others. It may be practicing personal gratitude or community-oriented sharing. A plethora of examples exist on social media illustrating ways in which people are attempting to create meaning for themselves or others.

  • Maintaining, re-awakening, or creating new social channels?
  • At this time, it is normal to feel isolated and lonely. Our usual dose of incidental, casual social contact has been interrupted. However, our need for social contact has not, whether we are typically outgoing or more reserved. So, reach out to others, be they friends, workmates, acquaintances or even strangers. Share an interest, experience, perspective and start a conversation. Communication builds empathy and helps us to feel understood and understand others. Minimize isolation by increasing social connection to combat anxiety and depression.

  • Practicing ‘soft skills’ like empathic listening, respectful communication, self-reflection and interpersonal awareness?
  • These are some of the life skills that we all need right now to boost our own resilience and build a more resilient community. Consult ‘how-to’ tutorials (e.g. the Smart Communications podcasts) if this is unfamiliar to you and create opportunities to practice.

  • Talking to someone if you need support?
  • Let someone know. It is time to reach out if you are experiencing: disrupted sleep; erratic eating; feeling lost, alone, angry or depressed or overwhelmed, highly anxious; thinking of giving up; or having difficulty focussing your thoughts. Talk to a professional (family doctor, spiritual leader, social worker, or psychologist). In Ontario, you can contact the free CMHA (Ontario) program Bounceback.ca, and locally call 211 to find resources.

I am hopeful that ‘Coping the Right Way’ provided you with some ideas about finding the right way for you to cope. The current pandemic provides an opportunity to learn to accept our feelings, tolerate distress, and move forward with grace despite not knowing what lies ahead.

We are all in this together, and I remain optimistic not only that we will become more resilient individuals but that we can come together as a community to offer support, compassion, and kindness through these exceptional times.

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

Karen Katchen

Karen Katchen

Dr. Karen Katchen brings over 35 years of experience as a Registered Psychologist and Executive Coach. She works with senior executives and start up teams to raise awareness, strengthen Emotional Intelligence and build skill sets for performance in this fast paced, high pressure, scale up economy. Learn more about mental health in tech at karenkatchen.ca.