When Life Gives you Limes: Coping Strategies for Pandemic Stress

Hero image courtesy of Fine Art in America

The coronavirus cases are occupying everyone’s mind and every media outlet. Despite the emergence of this new trigger, you can cope with the stress that this causes. During quarantine, you may be experiencing economic, health, social, and emotional issues or anticipatory anxiety because of the uncertainty that the pandemic causes. 

Fear not, there are many ways to endure during this virus, such as the following:

  • Distinguishing the Truthful Information About the Virus
  • Learning to Self-Regulate Emotions
  • Manage Anxiety
  • Build Your Coping Toolkit
  • Finding Helpful Resources

Sorting Through Misinformation

Weird Disinfectants, New Practices, and Corona

It is scary to think about. Those thoughts and feelings are 100% valid. Memes include political leaders, odd disinfecting ideas, and mask-wearing practices. With all the memes that joke about Corona (referencing the Mexican beer), the one thing that is true about all of this misinformation--life gave us limes--so what are we going to do about that?

Be Proactive, Not Reactive!

Man with hands over his face and eyes on his hands crying. The background is painted blue with clover leaves and bees.
Devan Shimoyama’s work  shows the performativity and fantasy element of the emotional experience mapped onto the racialized and gendered other. You may see sadness, but there is strength in connecting emotionally. Image courtesy of Pinterest.

Emotional Self-Regulation

Many people experience something that happens to them, but let’s look at this time of quarantine as something happening for you.  While it is an unfortunate situation, look at the positive. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. You said if you ever had the time, that you would pursue that one hobby, spend more time with family, launch that business idea, and actually work out. Now is the time to look at this as what it is--not quarantine, but an interlude or pause.

According to Saybrook University, it is important to examine your self-regulation skills at this time and try to take control over decision making. Emotional self regulation is how you respond to an emotional stimuli. Some ways to regulate your emotional response is through mindfulness, reminding yourself of your values, and find a therapist near you

Mindfulness

A big misconception about mindfulness is that you need to be a spiritual recluse and listen to a guide that sounds like a yoga teacher that says, “ you on the tropical island of Fiji.” Poof! All your problems are gone. Mindfulness is a practice that encourages grounding in the present and separates the real from the mind’s fabrications. This improves your focus on the right things.

Alma Thomas' work shows a rainbow of vertical strips with a mosaic-like rectangle pattern.
Let’s try a mindfulness exercise with this artwork. Notice the patterns in this painting. What do colors remind you of? What does the shape remind you of? What memories do you have connected to its title Tip Toe Through the Tulips? Image courtesy of Artstor.

Standing Firm on Your Values

Do some soul searching. The things that you value can anchor you through difficult times. Are you family-oriented, goal-driven, or spiritually active? Whatever your values may be, be intentional about each day engaging with what you value. You will feel fulfilled more in what you do despite what goes on around you.

Virtual Therapy Options

With the conditions lately, therapy is on virtual platforms. Have phone or Zoom appointments with your therapist to check in. Be sure that you are keeping track of mood changes accurately and answering questions well since providers are unable to see you in person and pick up on your physical indicators. 

If you are new to therapy, beware of all the virtual therapy options. Feel free to try one of the list of safe online virtual therapy services from the American Psychological Association. Seeking therapy, even if you are feeling good, is a wise investment in yourself. Kudos to you for making this step towards walking in wholeness.

Merutu's work looks like a cyclone of shapes, patterns, and colors. This is similar to what anxiety feels like.
Does the world feel like this swirling collage of graphic shapes and lines by Julie Mehretu? Notice the beauty in the chaos. Managing your anxiety can look like a symphony of lines and colors that are all over the place but make sense. Image courtesy of SF Gate.

Managing Anxiety 

This time may cause heightened anxiety. Dr. Joy Harden, an Atlanta-based mental health professional and host of Therapy for Black Girls podcast, suggests focusing on the aspects of this pandemic that you can control. This shift of focus can allow us to readjust our response and prioritize self-care. Additionally, Jelilat Williams, a Syracuse-based therapist that is the host of The Lived Verse, and Dr. Karyl McBride, a Colorado Marriage and Family Therapist, provides tips on managing corona-related anxieties.

These are the power-packed steps from the experts on conquering coronavirus stress: (Updated Checklist!)

  • Talk About Your Feelings
  • Extend Yourself Grace--it is okay to feel what you are feeling right now
  • Balance Information Consumption--read news rather than watch it and limit screen time
  • Take Time to Process your feelings
  • Create a Routine
  • Actively Engage Your Support System
  • Practice Good Hygiene and Do What You are Control of
  • Spend Some Time Alone
  • Make Travel and Work Decisions that Fit for You

Coping Tool-Kit

Dr. Harden suggests curating your coping tool kit to engage all the senses. Having a physical collection of things when you are overwhelmed with emotions can help bring your mind to a better state. While Beyonce swears by hot sauce in her bag, swear by your coping tool kit box to get through hard times. 

These are the things to put in your box in preparation for times of trouble:

  • Journal (10 things that make you happy, tracking potential triggers)
  • Puzzles or brain teasers
  • Something to hold--stress relief ball or silly putty
  • Write a playlist of your favorite songs or podcasts
  • List of books/shows
  • Candles or lotions
  • Happy pictures
  • Quotes/prayers that have been helpful in the past
A Green ribbon with #BreakTheStigma on it for Mental Health Awareness Month.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. There are over 450 million people who have anxiety and depression. If you are one of them, be at ease there are plenty of resources and you are not alone. Image courtesy of Faith Health NC.

Resources for Protecting Your Mental Space

If these feelings and self-care practices struck a chord within you, there are many other resources to explore. During this time there are several practices that are offering virtual therapy. Some examples are the following: GRW, Black Girls Heal, Crisis Intervention Hotline. Please remember to go to the hospital or a mental health emergency service if you feel that you are going to harm yourself or someone else or if your mental health causes extreme physical symptoms. In all things, stay safe and use the limes life gave you to your advantage.

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