Let’s acknowledge this together: It is a scary time. It has been more than a year since the pandemic began and our nerves are frayed. In his practice, psychotherapist Dr. Hod Tamir has had more discussions about living with heightened anxiety and depression than ever before.
But there is good news. Though you may feel overwhelmed, you have made it this far, and you have developed the skills you need to weather a few more months of stress and isolation. Here are Dr. Tamir’s therapist-approved tips for making sure your coping techniques are healthy and productive.
1. Validate others’ emotions.
When your loved ones express that they are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, your first impulse might be to smooth things over and make them feel better immediately. You may find yourself saying well-meaning things like, “It’s not that big of a deal,” or “Calm down. It’ll be fine.”
But health professionals know that those feel-good phrases don’t actually make anyone feel better. In fact, they can make matters worse. We can do better by acknowledging our loved one’s feelings and validating their lived experience with phrases like, “I understand that you are feeling overwhelmed,” or “That must be really difficult to deal with right now.”
When we recognize the fear and panic they are feeling, we are letting them know we see them and respect them, even if we don’t share the same feelings. And if you are feeling that same anxiety? Try telling yourself the same thing, too.
2. Focus on what you can control.
One of the most difficult elements of living through a pandemic is knowing that there is so much outside of our personal control. Though we might diligently wear a mask, wash our hands, and keep our distance from others, we cannot control the actions of our neighbors or our public officials.
A central practice of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is acknowledging that there will always be big problems we are unable to fix, and instead focusing our time and effort on what we can. When Dr. Tamir works with patients using the CBT method, he finds ways to improve their lives and lift their spirits in tangible, immediate ways.
What are some ways that you can make a small, positive change today? Can you communicate mindfully with your partner, your children, your coworkers? Can you make your home a warm, comfortable space to quarantine through the winter? Can you cook something delicious, get some fresh air, and read or watch something that will make you smile?
3. Keep in touch with loved ones.
Our lives have become much quieter since March. We’ve lost opportunities for time with our friends and family that would normally happen over birthdays, holidays, and nights out. For most of us, those are the days that boost our spirits and recharge our batteries.
Some of us might be experiencing “Zoom fatigue” – a unique kind of exhaustion that comes from interacting with coworkers, family, and friends through a screen. But we all still crave the connection, commiseration, and laughter that comes from a good conversation. Resisting the urge to withdraw from the people we love is more important now than ever.
How can you communicate creatively with loved ones in a way that doesn’t cause “Zoom fatigue”, but instead energizes and delights you? Could you cook dinner with a friend over FaceTime? Trade silly YouTube videos, or snaps of your pets? Send out an email update, or even write a physical letter?
4. Do something that brings you joy.
When we experience symptoms of anxiety and depression, we feel miserable – and we tend to double down on that misery by bringing it out of our minds and into our lives.
Depression makes us do things that make us feel even worse than before, like eat poorly, sleep all day, and neglect hobbies that make us happy. To counteract this spiral, we need to purposefully engage with something that brings us joy.
Though you may feel distracted, tired, or stressed, remembering and engaging with a hobby you love can recenter and reinspire. Do your best to resist the guilt that may come from taking the time to do something fun just for yourself. Though it won’t cure the pandemic, it isn’t frivolous or indulgent – it’s for your health.
5. Move your body.
When you’re feeling down, the last thing you want to do is exercise. And you may be experiencing symptoms like anxiety or fatigue that make it even harder to think about going to the gym. But exercise doesn’t need to be a full body boot camp! Exercise can be yoga stretches in the morning, a brisk walk through the park, or dancing in your kitchen to your favorite music.
As long as your heart is pumping and your muscles are moving, you’re on your way to improving your mood.
6. Remember: this too shall pass.
Though the pandemic may seem endless, it isn’t. We know much more about how the virus spreads than we did back in March, and we know how to properly protect ourselves. A vaccine is on its way. Though the winter will be difficult, the seasons will turn and it will be spring again soon.
We will emerge from this year a little shaken, a little exhausted – but we will emerge. Hold on to that hope, and hold out for a little bit longer.
This article has been adapted from Dr. Tamir’s conversation with Adrienne Gold Davis on the Momentum Boost “Mind Shift: A Session with Psychotherapist Dr. Hod Tamir.” Watch the full Boost here: https://youtu.be/MEBZU4TY1pc
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