What Has Hit Us? Coping Through COVID-19

Making a list of what I want to accomplish and pay attention to is one of my daily routines.  When stress increases, as it has with the COVID-19 pandemic, I write more lists than usual, including lists of ways to take care of myself and others during this crazy time. I need a constant reminder of what is most vital now to help me prioritize and focus. After two weeks since life as we knew it halted, I have a pile of 3×5 index cards with various and repeating “to-dos.” 

Perhaps these compiled lists (with a bit of extrapolation) will be helpful for you.

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  • Stick to routines as much as possible. Create new ones if, for the time being, old ones have vanished.
  • Stop surfing the news channels over and over.
  • Get outside. Walk.
  • Do yoga.
  • Meditate.
  • Volunteer/serve.
  • Stay off the news sites.
  • Allow feelings – if angry, feel anger.  If scared, feel fear. If sad, feel sad. If hopeful, feel hope.
  • Allow grief: I am so sad so many people are suffering. I am so sad my children’s school is on hiatus.  I am so sad some of my friends, family members and clients are out of work.  I am so sad my daughter’s senior college year is ending this way.  I am sad I can’t see clients in my office right now.
  • …and then also gratitude: My family is together.  We can still get outside.  We have food to eat.  Our home is warm. The peonies are poking through the soil.
  • Plan for 15-30 minutes of worry time a day – really have at your worries during that scheduled time, then end the worry time with a little meditation, movement or shifting into something totally different.  (Planned worry time is a tool from cognitive-behavioral therapy.)
  • Surrender and work to trust in whatever name you give the mystery greater than yourself.
  • Be open to opportunities – the opportunity for increased connection, new ways of doing business, for rest, and for sorting through files and rooms that need decluttering.
  • Stay connected to important others – extended family, friends, and clients. Really listen, it’s your best gift.
  • Remember you are not alone; we are in this together.
  • Remember, the children are watching you.
  • Slow down.
  • Surrender to what’s out of your control.
  • Breathe.
  • Remember, good decisions come best from a place of grounding, stillness and calm.
  • Ask:  What do I have control of?  And what don’t I?  Work to manage that which is within my control (my attitude, what I say, and what I do, including washing hands and practicing social distancing) and let go of what isn’t (the spread of the virus, orders from national, state and local officials, knowledge of how long this is going to continue).
  • Limit news sites scrolls.
  • Breathe.
  • Believe in your resiliency through this very tough time.
  • Take all health precautions.
  • Practice exquisite self-care.
  • Remember this is going to end some unknown day; how do you want to spend TODAY?
  • Limit time reading the news.
  • Breathe.

As you can see, staying off the news sites, surrender and breathing are constants repeats on my lists!  I feel my body’s sympathetic nervous system going into overdrive every time I log onto a news site. While we benefit from being informed, we hurt our capacity to stay relatively calm and grounded when we overload ourselves with alarming information.

What’s your list? What helps you during this time?  What doesn’t? What will support you to follow your own best advice? What opportunities might come from this? What’s just plain hard, awful, sad?

Recommended for you:  

CALM is sharing, for free, some of its meditations and practices.  They are really good.  I fell asleep during the one called Softening Fear, and that’s sayin’ something!   You can access the link here.

There’s a website dedicated to all kinds of resources for those of us feeling more anxiety during the COVID-19 crisis. You can find it here.

Tara Brach, a well known leader in the mindfulness/meditation field and author of several books on the subject, has recently posted a page of resources, you can access it here.

And one of my favorite bloggers, Heather Plett, just posted “Holding Space For Yourself in a Time of Isolation and Liminal Space.” It’s worth reading and you can do so here.

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Update:  I’m only doing video and sometimes phone sessions, within New York state, until further notice.  I’m pleasantly surprised at how well the technology works and thankful I can continue to serve current and new clients.  Most health insurances are covering video and phone sessions during this COVID-19 crisis.  Please call me at 315-870-0154 if you are a potential new client interested in starting therapy.

Coronavirus Conundrums

I’m unnerved by the novel coronavirus. Watching it travel throughout the world and now affect our country and state, I don’t know how our national and local governments will lead and support its citizens during this uncertain time, who will become ill, how long the crisis will continue, or if it will re-emerge later in the year or next year.  So much is not known. 

My nervous system is easily upset as I tend to expect the worst possible outcomes in situations, so my response is nothing new.  But I’m listening to others’ worries every day now, both in my office and at home, and I know I am not alone. This is important for all of us:  we are not alone.

My daughter’s final college semester is going to be finished “online” -upending just about everything she and countless others thought their final months at college would be like.  My son, a high school senior, is also worried about the implications for finishing out his year. My sister and father, and other loved ones, are in poor health with weakened immune systems.  Anything planned could be cancelled.  How we work is already changing. The economic impact is unknown, but clearly happening.

Clients and friends are rethinking travel plans, worried about loved ones and recognizing the disruption to their work, social and home lives.  Anxiety is high.

In other parts of the world and country the disruption and death are already painful realities. It’s becoming clear that in order to slow and “flatten the curve” of the virus’s spread, we have to make drastic life changes.

Difficult, uncertain times call for us to dig deep and remember what centers and grounds us, and to clarify what options are open to us.  When I’m tempted to yet again comb through all the news sites for something definitive about the virus, I now work hard to not “go there” – to go instead to getting clear on what I can do, what’s possible and what’s not.   And sometimes I do my best to simply breathe.

We know the best advice about hand-washing, not touching your face, making sure you’ve got extra food and supplies in your home, etc.   Suggestions about how to manage strong emotions and worrisome thoughts during this time is less available.

I follow several bloggers and one of my favorites, Sandra Kornblatt, recently posted, “How to Decontaminate Your Mind.”  She wrote from an early epicenter of the virus in the United States:  Seattle.  She’s thoughtful and honest and recommends a procedure to get grounded and recognize our larger connection to others, to the mystery of life, to the divine, to whatever helps us recognize a bigger picture and reality.

You can read her post here.

Jason Stephenson shares YouTube music and meditations for those with sleep and stress challenges.  Hailing from Australia where wildfires destroyed so much already, he intimately knows disaster and upset. His most recent post lists some suggestions, including:

Refocus on your highest intent: Take a moment to become aware of any fearful thoughts. Only when we are aware of what is here can we shift our attention to something new. Spend a few minutes considering your highest hopes for the future. Then visualize what this looks and feels like for another few moments.

Come down to your heart: What does it offer at this moment? With your eyes closed, invite all uneasy thoughts down to the heart. As you sink into the peace and stillness of this space, let it be okay to not have certain answers or insights yet. What wisdom or virtues can your heart offer you in place of mental understanding?

Seek support: When we fear the future, it can be so deeply healing to turn to a loved one, friend, or professional who can lend an ear.  Our human fears are universal; take this as an opportunity to connect rather than to pull away.  Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you have made it through tough times before.”

You can sign up for his meditations and articles here.

It’s impossible to know how the virus is going to change our lives and world.  It already has and it’s going to keep changing.  Surrendering to this reality is wiser than fighting it.  At the same time we can work to care for ourselves and others in ways that use our inherent strengths. And we’d do well to remember that old Buddhist truth: Everything changes, nothing is permanent.  

This too shall pass, but it’s going to be awhile.

The Telemental Health Option

I’ve started providing video therapy sessions to clients who moved to another part of the state, were unable to leave their home, or when a snowstorm made travel ill-advisable. I use doxy.me, an encrypted and HIPAA approved platform. 

I prefer in-person sessions and yet find this a suitable alternative for clients with whom I already have an established relationship.  I offer this option should the coronavirus response prevent office sessions.  You’ll need a laptop or tablet, a quiet place that preserves your confidentiality and a decent internet connection.  You’ll also need to confirm that your insurance company reimburses for telemental health; some plans don’t.  More on all this in another post.  For now, just be aware that video therapy sessions are an option.

Brenda Hartman-Souder March 2020