With cases on the rise and the Omicron variant dominating headlines, COVID is on the forefront of all our minds this holiday season. And it’s nearly impossible to avoid—all you have to do is watch the news for two minutes, and you’ll inevitably start feeling anxious.
Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of the pandemic is the uncertainty of when it will end. That’s why finding healthy coping mechanisms is essential in order to protect your mental health. We spoke to therapists to see what works best for them during scary and challenging times.
How 25 therapists explain how they cope with COVID-related news
1. Reframe your perspective
“One tip I have found very useful in combating the discouraging COVID news is to shift my perspective of how we are viewing the pandemic. In the early days of COVID, a lot of us were treating COVID as if there was a beginning, middle, and an end. We were expecting there to be vaccines to bring us to the end of mask-wearing, offices to fully open up again, and travel to be limitless. I now know that that is not the case and continuing to think like that will only bring me back to disappointment.
Instead, I have adopted a new perspective of COVID as an evolving state, one that we are constantly reacting to and learning from, and we will need to continue to shift our lifestyle to adapt. Rather than waiting for it to “end,” I am now working with the current state it is in and adapting to that as best I can. As things continue to change, I will continue to adapt. This allows me to be more flexible in my reactions to the news and replace disappointment with action.”— Erica Alter, LMSW, psychotherapist at Cobb Psychotherapy
2. Focus on what you can control
“I focus on what is within my control today. For example, I can control how much I go in public, who I see, if I wear a mask, if I get vaccinated, etc. I cannot control others’ actions. Reminding myself what is within my control helps me feel safe and grounded in the present moment instead of all the “what ifs” that anxiety likes to tell us.”— Shannon Garcia, LCSW, psychotherapist in private practice at States of Wellness Counseling located in Illinois and Wisconsin
3. Choose to be present
“I cope with the discouraging covid news by being mindful and taking in the pleasant moments throughout the day. For example, taking walks with my family brings me great joy. I take the time to be mindful and experience the moment.” — Amanda Conroy, licensed professional counselor in the state of Colorado
4. Delegate responsibility and collaborate
“To battle isolation, make a list of helpful colleagues and reach out to them to coordinate patient care and collaborate. If you find yourself wearing too many hats, I recommend hiring an office manager, an additional assistant, or even a student to assist with administrative work.” — Julie Kolzet, PhD, licensed psychologist and editorial advisory member for Psycom and PsycomPro
5. Practice acceptance and self-compassion
“Personally, I’ve found that acceptance and self-compassion help with the onslaught of COVID news we’ve been receiving for the past 2 years. Understanding that the social distancing measures and mask mandates, while frustrating, are in place to protect myself and my loved ones and then treating myself with kindness when I do get frustrated by this new normal has been key. Then I try to offer myself soothing and attempt to access hope if I can find it in that moment. We won’t be living through this forever, that’s simply a fact and keeping this in mind has been a great source of solace amidst what feels like an endless global health crisis.” – Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, ATR-BC, Owner and Founder of Take Root Therapy
6. Give yourself permission to feel those negative emotions
“I allow myself to feel how I feel in that moment and not push away uncomfortable feelings. So if I need to cry or feel angry, I do that and then I can acknowledge those feelings and move on to the next thing.” — Gabrielle Juliano-Villani, MSW, LCSW
7. Learn the four steps of focused positive strategy
“The single most beneficial step we can take to better cope is to learn this four-step process:
Becoming mindful of our thoughts—recording and examining the ideas that occupy our minds when we are upset
Identifying dysfunctional thoughts—those that cause distress without inspiring constructive action—that have become the focus of our attention and are disrupting our peace of mind
Construct more reasonable, balanced, and functional alternatives that tend to inspire hope and assertive steps, and
Systematically refocus our attention away from the dysfunctional thoughts and toward the functional alternatives.” — John F. Tholen, PhD, Retired Clinical Psychologist
8. Take social media breaks
“I personally take social media breaks whenever negative news is starting to affect my emotions. Social media is full of negative news reports and these can lead to panic. Often, when we read these news reports, we tend to automatically think the worst even though our thoughts are completely off. So, I make sure I stay aware of how social media impacts my mood. And, if I find myself reading the reports and comments and thinking the worst, I take a social media break. I have found that this helps greatly.” — Derwin K.K. Nunes III CSAC, The Ohana Addiction Treatment Center
9. Do something for your future self
“Keep doing the things you would normally do-laundry, groceries, work, phone calls—keep doing those things. It shows your brain you can move forward even if it’s small steps. Recognize that we’ve had a rare privilege of predictability that our fore-bearers didn’t have. We have to be ok with the fact that life isn’t predictable.” — Dr. David Rakofsky, Psychologist and President of Chicago-based Wellington Counseling Group
10. Have self-care buffers and transitions throughout the day
“This might look like going for a walk outside in the mornings before starting work to keep you centered and grounded using mindfulness/focusing on your five senses. After the workday ends and before you transition into family life, do a quiet meditation or a page of journaling to quiet any anxiety. It can also be helpful to have a transition at bedtime when anxiety spikes for a lot of us as well, such as listening to a guided meditation or doing a “mind dump” writing session where you simply write down all your worries on a piece of paper to get them out of your head. You can then destroy this paper if you find that helpful and therapeutic as well.” — Heidi McBain, LMFT, LPC, PMH-C Therapy for Moms & Moms-To-Be.
11. Remind yourself that you’ve persevered in the past and can persevere again
“Personally I try to remind myself of the perspective ‘I’ve done this all before, I can do it all again’ and that ‘I do have much to feel grateful for and I have the fortitude to manage difficult times such as these.’ I try to make sure I focus in on moments of pleasure however small they might be.
I will also increase the tools I use to destress myself like paced deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. Lastly, I do tend to use a lot of humor at times like this, as I find being able to see the humor wherever possible to help my mood.” — Dr. Gail Saltz, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of medicine and host of the “How Can I Help?” podcast from iHeartRadio
12. A trifecta of cultivating presence, surrendering the uncontrollable, and practicing gratitude
“First, cultivate presence. Depression occurs when we ruminate about the past and second-guess if only we had done something differently, the outcome may be different. Anxiety happens when we worry about the uncertainty of the future. Peace occurs in the present moment so root yourself in the here-and-now with mindfulness practices like meditation, deep breathing, yoga or simply connecting with nature and your senses.
Next, Surrender the uncontrollable. Embrace the wisdom of the Serenity Prayer and release all that is outside your control to your higher power (God, the Universe, Nature, etc.) Empower yourself to focus on that which is within your control (practicing self-compassion and good self-care. accessing support, etc.) Honor and release your emotions through exercise, art, music, journaling. talking with loved ones or a therapist or counselor. Surrender to the ebb and flow of life and practice resilience by surfing the waves of loss.
Finally, practice gratitude. Train your brain to look for the good parts in any situation. Notice what is going well in your life and give thanks by sharing appreciation with others, keeping a gratitude journal, incorporating gratitude in your meditations, prayers or personal reflections.” — Joyce Marter, licensed psychotherapist and author of The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life
13. Lean on a therapy circle
“Never before in my career have I had the same shared struggles as my clients, who then have similar struggles to each other. In some ways, it makes joining with clients easier. But in many ways, it presents a scenario where the help I am providing is exactly the help I might also need from others. As a therapist in this current climate, I have been leaning on my therapy circle for support.
I try to notice the things that bring me solace and peace and spend time doing things I normally might not do. I take long drives, I play board games with my kids, I cook often, and I try to connect with friends virtually whenever possible which isn’t something I did before this pandemic. Many of my friends have experienced loss from illness, as have I, and having a circle of supportive friends has been a lifesaver. In turn, I can provide that for my friends, staff, and clients.” — Helene D’Jay, MS, LPC, Clinical Director for Newport Healthcare Connecticut
14. Engage in “values-based” coping
“As a therapist, all of the COVID news—and especially recent news about case upticks with variants – comes with the harsh reality that our clients (and everyone for that matter) will continue to suffer. COVID-19 has brought with it a parallel pandemic on our mental health and we as therapists are not immune! A small part of what makes this time so difficult is our inability to live aligned with our core values. We as humans are meant to experience things like love, laughter, connection, and physical touch.
This is simply coping that is meaningful to you and meets a core need. It starts by clarifying what your core values may be (type “values clarification worksheet” into your search engine for a free tool!) and then determining one coping skill for each core value. For example, with values of both connection and health, I might schedule a “walk and talk” to catch up with a loved one on the phone while I get my body moving and take in some vitamin D. Alternatively, I may plan to cook a nourishing dinner with my spouse. When we are drained by negativity and feelings of hopelessness, we need to lean into our values to fill us back up with things that mean the most to us.” — Carly Harris, LMFT, Primary Therapist, Newport Healthcare Southern California
15. Be kind to yourself
“It’s important to remember that therapists are people too! It’s very difficult to be in a helping profession while experiencing the setbacks and constant changes in the world. On an individual level, we as therapists need to prioritize ourselves and our own mental health and well-being. As we often tell clients, a therapist needs to meet their own needs before they can meet the demands the profession. While each individual has their own coping mechanisms that range from exercise to yoga, prayer to meditation, one ubiquitous trait of COVID is social restriction. We need to socialize and socialize with each other! This is especially important for any therapists who do outpatient work and don’t have the framework built-in with colleague interaction.
With many therapists now existing on virtual platforms, it’s important to avoid further interaction in those ways. Talking on the phone, without the need to be consistently cognizant of your appearance and facial reactions, can be a great relief. We often forget about writing letters, or even in this day and age, writing an email. Sitting down, reflecting, and putting our thoughts and feelings on paper (or virtual paper) stimulates our minds and awareness of others, existing both within ourselves and outside of ourselves. Finally, we need to be kind to ourselves. It’s ok to be angry, sad, disappointed, or lonely with the changes we experience. Being able to let ourselves cry and allow for feelings enables us to be more present with our clients and relate to this shared experience we are all having.” — Ian Parker, LCSW, Clinical Director, Newport Healthcare Connecticut
16. Remember to be human first and admit that it’s OK to be struggling
“It’s important for us as therapists to practice self-care and to surround ourselves with a support system. We cannot give from an empty well and, more importantly, our clients need to see us lead by example, to see us appear human, and to normalize what they are feeling. Meditation, journaling, accessing our own therapy, connecting to the things that bring us peace and joy. While it can feel quite heavy to deal with the world and what our clients are bringing to sessions, we must remember to be human first. Disconnecting from our daily life, engaging with nature and the things that we love can help to ground us. It can be helpful to admit that we are struggling, that this is heavy to carry and that we do not always feel up to the task. Imposter syndrome is something that most therapists battle with when things get hard. Remembering that we are in this collectively can be powerful soothing, while we ride out this experience largely in our homes and disconnected from our workplace.” — Heather Hagen, MS, LMFT, Director of Clinical Program Development, Newport Healthcare
17. Continue to do your own personal development work
“Since COVID hit, the amount of depression and anxiety, trauma, loneliness, and isolation is at levels that I’ve never seen during my 22 years in the field. It is discouraging. It is heavy. It is hard to carry all of COVID’s baggage for myself as well as others.
The best way that I deal with this is that I continue to do my own personal development work and my own spiritual understanding of how to take something that is really awful and turn it into something that is golden. It is through my own self-care and doing my best to help others transmute gold out of the lead of COVID.
I work on myself similarly to how I work with patients by saying, ‘It comes down to personal development, more self-care, and the ability to see a much bigger picture.’ One of the biggest challenges and gifts that the pandemic has given us is forming and interacting with our sense of connections. We are learning how to connect with others through screens, across international borders, and through other means, and in the big picture, these forms of communications allow us to form new connections and feel new senses of connection to others.” — Dr. Jesse Hanson, Psychotherapist and Advisor at Rehab.com
18. Acknowledge what you’re feeling, but don’t dwell on it
“As a therapist, it can be tempting for me to feel like I should be able to stay in a positive frame of mind all the time, but that is simply not realistic for anyone. The recent COVID-related news is very discouraging, and we’re all tired of the pandemic at this point. It’s important for us to acknowledge how we’re feeling, but not dwell on it. When I receive discouraging news, I allow myself a time-limited period to feel how I’m feeling. Depending on the intensity of my feelings, I might give myself an hour, a morning, or a day to really reflect on and process my emotions of sadness, anger, or grief.
Once that time period is up, I push myself to move on with my day and focus on more positive things. I highly recommend engaging in gratitude practices, such as making a list of everything that has gone well in the last week, or everything you have to look forward to in 2022. By practicing gratitude, we shift our thoughts to the positive, and our emotional state tends to follow.” — Kelly Vick, Registered Psychotherapist at FreshSolutions Therapy in Oakville, Ontario, Canada
19. Meditate and FaceTime with loved ones
“I have judiciously used two means to cope with the latest COVID outbreak. First, every morning I judiciously meditate and give myself the mantra that I and those I love will not get sick. I have also tried to FaceTime with my grandchildren every day. They give me inspiration, hope, and fortitude to help us all cope with the ongoing battle. We all get demoralized, but seeing, singing and playing with my grandchildren even remotely lifts my spirits and theirs.” — Dr. Gene Beresin, Executive Director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Mass General Hospital
(H3) 20. Try a combination of mindfulness, self-compassion, acceptance, reframing, and gratitude
“I acknowledge whatever it is I am feeling and give myself permission to be (sad, angry, worried, etc…), I remind myself that we are continuing to learn so much about this virus and how to stay safe and care for the ill and I then I turn my attention to focus on something that I am grateful for. I make the deliberate decision not to worry and be present and enjoy what’s before me. I guess it’s kind of a bit of mindfulness/self-compassion, acceptance, reframing, and gratitude.” – Dr. Khadijah Booth Watkins, Associate Director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital
21. Ask yourself: Who do I want to be in this situation?
“It can be really discouraging to hear about what’s going on with COVID, both in the news and in our own communities. There’s so much that seems out of our control when it’s often unclear how to keep yourself reasonably safe without being totally isolated. When I’m feeling discouraged and powerless, I try to ask myself: who do I want to be in this situation? Can I find a sense of meaning and mastery in how I choose to show up in my own life and for those who are important to me? If I were to look at myself with loving compassion, how would I see my situation?” — Abigail Nathanson, DSW, LCSW, APHSW-C, ACS, a licensed clinical social worker
22. Limit the amount of news you watch
“A coping mechanism I have found very helpful for my mental health is to limit how much of the news I watch. I know it is important to stay informed and up to date on what is going on, but there is a line between being informed and being overwhelmed with information. I have found that limiting my time watching the news has given me time to focus on myself and has helped with keeping my mind clear. It has also helped me keep my anxiety about the pandemic in a manageable place.” — GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC
23. Speak to yourself the same way you would a friend or loved one
“Show yourself compassion! I can’t deny that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic isn’t hard, stressful, and traumatic. But instead of pushing away tough feelings, I’ve found it incredibly helpful to show myself compassion, understanding, and curiosity around what I’m feeling. When I find myself overwhelmed and anxious on the hardest days, I try to speak to myself the same way I would a friend or loved one and reassure myself that what I’m feeling is understandable given the state of the world and frequent news.” — Dr. Rachel Hoffman, LCSW and Chief Therapy Officer at Real
24. Dwell in the FOG: Forgiveness, optimism, and gratitude
“With each reporter’s breathless update on the emerging COVID news, I always give myself permission to feel sadness, disappointment, and self-pity. But I don’t stay there. Instead, I dwell in the FOG: Forgiveness, optimism and gratitude.” — Dr. Christopher Cortman, psychologist
25. Add things to your day that bring you energy
“If the news is something that is depleting my energy, I make sure to set limits on how much news I am taking in and add things to my day that will bring me energy. This could be going for a drive, listening to music, talking with a friend, or reading a good book. It is important to have a balance and notice when this balance is a bit lopsided.” — Laura Rippeon, a licensed clinical social worker
Article originally published on Parade