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Ask a Therapist: On COVID-19

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Q: Can you provide some tips to help us navigate these uncertain times in the current COVID-19 situation?

A: With the onset of this global pandemic, we have all had to adjust our lives to protect our own health and the health of our neighbours in ways that we did not expect. Many of our freedoms have been taken away as a necessary measure to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of this virus. Many of the ways we were connected and found structure to our days have changed and many are left floundering and feeling a general heaviness that they can’t quite identify.

Here are just a few tips to help us all find our way as this situation unfolds:

Be prudent but don’t panic. There is a tendency at a time like this to over- or under-react rather than respond with wisdom and clarity. Some will maximize the problem and stock pile toilet paper and pantry supplies while others will minimize the situation and dismiss it without taking things seriously. Both of these cognitive and behavioural reactions are unhelpful. As we move through these days, it is important to “right-size” the problem. This is a serious situation that requires our attention and compliance with government direction; staying at home and practicing social distancing are responsibilities that we must take seriously. However, we don’t want to act out in behaviours or responses that are motivated by fear. Exercise prudence: take precautions and actions that are right-sized, based on facts and a clear understanding of risks and try not to overreact.

Choose your voices. Ultimately, you get to choose who has the right or the access to speak into and inform your understanding of the situation. Scrolling mindlessly through news media can be incredibly damaging to your mental health. Curate your social media feeds by following voices that are promoting accurate, positive, and helpful information and mute or unfollow others. Practice good boundaries in conversations with family and friends and limit the rumination and negativity that is not supportive or healthy. Pay attention to how the media content you are consuming (even the choices you are making on Netflix) is affecting you and make mindful choices based on what is healthy and helpful.

Watch for the good. This is not a directive to dismiss the honest challenges and difficulties of this time. This crisis is real and it is hard and it is okay to be upset about what is happening. Acknowledging and naming those mixed feelings is crucial but it is also important to expand your observation. There are stories that we are living and telling ourselves that are authentic to the situation and they are heavy but there are also wonderful stories of people helping, creating, reprioritizing, and reconnecting in ways that demonstrate great resilience and hope. Be sure to learn about, share, and tell yourself these stories as well. As we accept the reality of a time that is both hard and good we will craft a more complete narrative to shape our hearts and minds.

Limit anticipatory anxiety. It is easy to get too far ahead of ourselves in a time when we really don’t know how things will play out. Our mind might have a tendency to look into the uncertain future and begin to worry about all the “what ifs”. Catastrophic (worst case scenario) thinking is not an ideal way to address the current situation. Instead, focus on the present moment and doing the just next right thing in your home and work. (Thanks to Frozen 2 for this timely reminder!) When you are navigating a crisis, you do have to take things moment by moment. Think about what the next step is and try to create healthy forward motion by taking baby steps that are within your control.

Find your silver lining. Not all of the changes related to COVID-19 have to be dark clouds. There are signs of the light breaking through all around us. Literally, as spring brings forth new life and longer days, the birds are reminding us of the hope we have for seasons to change: this too shall pass. Some people are embracing this time of “house arrest” to stop and to reorder their lives in practical (cleaning a closet, organizing a room, completing a home renovation) and spiritual (reflecting on priorities, beliefs, and values, starting new healthy habits, bringing new practices into their daily routines, reconnecting with nature and family) ways. Challenging times always bring with them new learning, creativity, and clarity. Reflect and take action to welcome these silver linings in the midst of the storm.

To submit YOUR question for consideration in a future column or for more information about psychotherapy services – AVAILABLE VIA PHONE OR VIDEO – that could help you navigate these unprecedented times, email sarah@sarahjoycovey.com. You can follow on Instagram @sarahjoycovey & visit sarahjoycovey.com for more resources & helpful content. While there, subscribe to the FREE e-newsletter which will keep you informed about all the exciting news at A NEW LEAF: Resources for Growth – COMING SOON TO 21 QUEEN STREET IN ELMVALE!

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