Have you ever read a book that keeps you awake at night, unable to put it down until you finish it? You can probably remember all of the characters and plot points? Some of us love reading, and enjoy a range of good books, and yet, there are some authors who captivate us beyond ecstasy — from the first word to the last. That is my case with Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s book: The Body Keeps The Score.
While immersed in his literature, to my surprise I received an invitation to attend the Psychotherapy Networker Symposium in DC. That information could not have arrived at a better time; Dr. Van Der Kolk was going to present two workshops at that event.
In preparation, I continued reviewing the book and imagined how I was going to be able to meet and hear directly about the wonders of the body and mind. I was counting the days.
Unfortunately, only ten days before the event, the dreaded email appeared in my inbox. The organizers canceled the symposium due to the COVID-19 outbreak spreading around the world. It was at that time that I experienced the first-hand disappointment and disillusion that the virus is bringing many of us, along with much concern and confusion.
I soon realized that I was not the only one dealing with the emotional aftermath of our current situation. That same week I met with a patient, a bright Ph.D. candidate, who shared with me how much she was affected by having to cancel the in-person invites to her doctoral defense and the ordeal she went through to change or cancel flights — with phone waits of over two hours. She also mentioned the struggles she had encountered while finding out if her university officials were going to allow her to keep her defense date, or if they would reschedule. In her own words, “I felt disappointed and, at the same time, upset.” She had worked so hard for over four years, and now this very unexpected situation was affecting both her and her loved ones — delays, cancellations, and, worse. It all felt…unfair.
There are likely millions of cases around the world like these. And it is not only about delayed events or cancelations, — we also see struggling local and small-business owners, laborers not getting their weekly check due to closures, and families stressed because their financial stability is crumbling.
Many of us are being emotionally affected, and without the proper resources and support to deal with the negative emotions caused by this pandemic, we could soon start seeing more of us impacted by mental health issues around COVID-19.
Coping with Change of Plans During COVID-19
There are several things that you can do to support yourself while dealing with the disappointment and powerlessness wrought by this outbreak. According to the CDC, the following are some of the best ways to minimize stress:
- Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories.
- Take care of your body. Exercise, meditate, breathe!
- Make time to relax. Think about the activities you enjoy and do them as often as you can.
- Connect with others. Talking to people, while practicing social distancing, and keeping a positive outlook can be beneficial to you as well as the other person.
- Remind yourself that you can reschedule some events. For those dates that cannot be moved, think about the future. The current situation may prevent you from being with your loved ones during a meaningful day, but you will be able to see them healthy for many years to come if you take precautions now.
Protect your emotional health
- Contact your healthcare provider, or an online therapist, if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.
- Educate yourself! It is OK to protect yourself from the flow of information most of us are receiving 24/7. What is not OK is shielding ourselves from important ways of protecting ourselves and those who are most vulnerable. Avoidance is different than self-care.
- When you share accurate, helpful information about COVID-19 you can help make people feel less stressed and more connected to them — but don’t overdo it! Be mindful of the information you’re sharing and whether it’s factual, from a trusted source, and helpful to whomever you’re sharing it with.
- Learn more about taking care of your emotional health and teach your children by providing a good example.
- Children and teens react to what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with the COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children.
Learn how to support others
- Take time to talk with your loved ones about the COVID-19 outbreak, but use an informed approach. If you’re a parent, use these tips to talk to your children about the outbreak.
- Reassure the elderly and children that they are safe. Let them know it is OK if they feel worried or upset — but try and reassure them and keep them safe by following public health guidelines.
- Try to keep to your regular routines. If you’re working from home while you have children at home due to school closures, this advice may be of great use.
- Be a role model for those around you both virtually, and in-person.
Mental Health Tips for First Responders, Community Workers, and Therapists
Assisting others to deal with COVID-19 can take an emotional toll on many of us. These are some things we can do to reduce vicarious traumatic stress, including:
- Acknowledge that this outbreak is a traumatic event and that it can impact anyone helping families or victims
- Learn the symptoms of COVID-19
- Create a list of personal self-care activities that you enjoy and you know to help you destress
- Take a break from media and discussing COVID-19
- Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed or concerned
The world, in general, is experiencing an unprecedented level of disruptions, but staying calm and educating yourself can make a genuine difference in your life and the lives of others.
While I might not have had the opportunity to meet Dr. van der Kolk in person this time, keeping this small delay in perspective and acknowledging that others are being impacted to a far greater extent— helps me focus on the fact that I know I will meet him someday. Meanwhile, I’ll stay positive, focused on self-care, and committed to helping others so that they can take care of themselves.