Social Distancing Approved Strategies for Coping with COVID19
Ordinances to shelter in place and practice social distancing during this state of emergency have left many of us feeling stressed and without our usual coping skills. Getting together with friends, going to the gym, or "window shopping" at TJMAXX are no longer options. So, what are we supposed to do? I'm going to share some strategies that are safe, effective, and compatible with social distancing. With a little time and effort, they will provide relief.
The goal of these coping strategies is to relieve feelings of inner distress safely and smoothly. Unsafe coping mechanisms, on the other hand, such as using alcohol or other drugs, self harm, or unhealthy relationships (what some call an "emotional addiction") can relieve distress temporarily but often at a cost of putting your health at risk during the behavior and increasing negative emotions such as feelings of self hate and guilt after the fact.
If we think of our feelings as existing on a scale from 1-10 where 1 is no disturbance or neutral and 10 is the highest distress you can imagine, we might need to employ these coping skills when our inner feelings of distress are in the 6-10 range. Especially when we are a 10 on the scale or close to it, the priority is to stop everything and calm down. Note: The scale is measured subjectively- that is, by you- as psychological trauma is measured subjectively.
We can use people, places, and things to calm down by strategically shifting our attention away from our inner feelings and focusing even harder on the people, places, and things around us, getting our emotions to a more manageable range. Going from an 8-9 to a 5-6, for example, can mean the difference between acting out our fear, rage, or despair or responding wisely in spite of our strong emotions. The latter promotes feelings of confidence, calm, and being in control.
Here is how you do it:
1) Notice how you are feeling.
2) Rate your feelings on the scale of 1-10.
3) If you are a 6 or higher, practice people, places, and things.
Change the people. If you are alone, text, call, message, Facetime, or otherwise reach out to someone you trust and request they talk with you. Hotlines and textlines are also options. (See my Get Support page for numbers.) If you are feeling upset with a person or people, try taking some space. Focus on someone you look up to, a real or imaginary figure who is source of support. Get creative. Practice what works. Note: Use the scale to help express your feelings/inner state. (For example, Can we talk? I'm in 6-10, the danger zone.)
Change the place. Move from one room to another. Get in the shower. Get out of bed. Go outside. Sit in the car. Take a stroll around the house, up and down the hallway, or around the block (if it feels safe to you). Transport yourself from your head to your surroundings until you feel calmer.
Change the things. Change what you are doing. Cook. Bake. Clean. Organize. Sew. Draw. Sing. Stretch. Dance. Breathe. Focus all of your attention on what your hands are doing. Knit. Type. Write. Cut the grass. Vacuum. Garden. Play music. This is called physical grounding.
The idea with all of the above strategies is to distract yourself from your inner experience of distress so that your physiological experience can calm down. As a result, you will be able to think more clearly and breathe easier, if not let your mind and body relax. If you choose the phone a friend option (people), don't worry about getting into the details of your inner turmoil unless you feel grounded enough to do so. The goal is distraction- not rumination.
I hope this little break down proves useful to you in reducing your feelings of stress and increasing your feelings of mastery at being able to effectively cope with your emotions during this time. There are infinite coping skills. Only you will know what works. It can be helpful to start simple. Keep it basic. And, remember, counselors are here to help if you need some support.
Take good care out there.