When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in early 2020, we asked therapists and other mental health practitioners to share coping mechanisms for dealing with our weird new normal and mounting anxiety about the coronavirus.
Now the world is (somehow) reaching the almost two-year mark of the pandemic, and we’re calling on them again. As news about the omicron variant continues to come out, we could use any therapeutic advice we can get about dialing down our anxieties.
Below, mental health practitioners across the country share how they’re coping with so much uncertainty, and the techniques they personally use when they’re worrying about COVID getting bad again.
I remind myself this isn’t my first COVID rodeo.
“In times like these, I remind myself: I am not a pro at living through a pandemic, but I am not a novice, either. I remind myself that I can take precaution and maintain the way I have been for over a year. I can do the best that I can. My best is enough.” ― Akua Boateng, a psychotherapist in Philadelphia
I practice gratitude.
“It’s always helpful to focus on what we can control, but focusing on what we are grateful for is transformative. Practicing gratitude always helps my anxious worries melt away. When the world feels uncertain, I love to physically write down on paper all the things I’m grateful for that come to mind, no matter how big or small. This small gratitude practice helps me shift my thinking away from ‘powerless’ to ‘powerful,’ from feeling like a victim to feeling like a victor. (As a mental health professional, I know that gratitude rewires our brains’ thought patterns for the better!) And in the moments my mind seems to want to cling extra-hard to anxiety, I take the opportunity to call a friend and share what’s on my mind. Connecting with another human being for a little compassion and empathy is always a good idea!” ― Therese Mascardo, a psychologist and founder of Exploring Therapy
I let myself process all my emotions about COVID: the good, the bad and the ugly.
“I personally give myself permission to name and experience the wide range of emotions stemming from the current pandemic and new variant; these feelings range anywhere from grief, anger, helplessness to hope. I let these feelings run through me and also share my thoughts and feelings with my support system of family and friends. This reminds me that I’m not alone with what I am experiencing.” -- Alyssa Mancao, a licensed clinical social worker in Los Angeles
“I practice regular self-validation and self-compassion, meaning that I allow and accept the emotions that show up with kindness, and without allowing self-judgment and self-criticism to prevail. Emphasis on ‘practice’ here, not perfection. At the end of the day, we’re all humans going through a shared traumatic experience together. I allow myself space to take time for myself, consider what I’m capable of, workload-wise (aware that I have the privilege to do that), and recalibrate and adjust as these times ahead change.” ― Brooke Huminski, a psychotherapist in Providence, Rhode Island
I limit the amount of COVID news I consume.
“What helps me to manage my COVID anxiety is to set limits and boundaries around the information that I am consuming. That can look like only watching the news for 10 minutes per day and not constantly refreshing my feeds. It is also helpful to set boundaries with friends and family in terms of sharing news stories, fatality rates and other information that can affect my mood. Simply stating, ‘Hey, I appreciate you wanting to keep me in the loop of what is going on, but these articles are creating more anxiety for me.’ Especially since we are all managing a climate in which there are so many opinions and an influx of false information spreading, it is important to filter what you are consuming and set boundaries.” ― Aaliyah Nurideen, a licensed clinical social worker in New Jersey
I ground myself in nature.
“Even though all I want to do after a long day of sessions is collapse on my couch and eat Cheez-Its, I force myself once or twice a week to the beach where I can put my feet in the sand and listen to the waves. Take an evening walk or sit on my back patio and listen to the birds chirping.” ― Jennifer Chappell Marsh, a marriage and family therapist in San Diego
With so much out of my control, I’m focusing on what I can control.
“To me, the key to handling worry (whether it’s about COVID or anything else) is to make decisions about what I can actually control and then redirect my attention to what I’m actually doing with my time in the present moment. So if worry comes up about the latest COVID news, for instance, I might take some brief time to decide if I want to update any personal decisions I’ve made about activities or precautions in my life related to COVID. That should be a relatively quick thing (lingering for too long in decision-making mode is bad for anxiety), and then I try not to analyze questions I can’t actually answer, like ‘When will this end?’ or ‘Will I get COVID?’ Those questions are impossible to answer with certainty, so instead of trying to eliminate the uncertainty, I allow the uncertainty to exist and redirect my attention towards whatever activity I am actually doing with my time in that moment. Basically what I’ve just described there is mindfulness and acceptance of uncertainty, which are proven effective strategies for anxiety and worry.” ― Michael Stein, a psychologist in Denver specializing in anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder
“In grappling with my own COVID anxiety, I’ve worked on more actively accepting uncertainty. This means recognizing when things are outside of my control, and gently encouraging myself to release any attempts I’m making to control those things. At the same time, I’m also staying mindful of the things that are still within my control ― even if they feel small. We all make numerous decisions throughout the day ― from what we eat, to what we wear, to who we interact with ― and reminding myself that I have choice in all of those things helps me to stay connected to my sense of agency in the world and my own capacity as a human being.” ― Madison McCullough, a psychotherapist in New York City
I try to meditate every day.
“I’ve committed to a morning and evening meditation practice. Even if I only have five minutes, it really grounds me as I enter the day and night. Insight Timer is a fantastic free app that provides a variety of meditations to meet your personal needs.” ― Aimee Martinez, a psychologist in Los Angeles
I try not to overextend myself.
“I’m a psychologist and a human: I have to contend with the same rush of emotions when I see the news stories involving loss, the politicization of the virus and vaccine, and ‘business as usual’ even in the face of crisis. What has helped me over the past 19 months is figuring out what is in the locus of my control: that is, how can I not take blame for national events and focus more on what is more proximal to me? For example, just because I do an interview urging vaccinations on CNN does not mean I should see a spike in appointments the next day. What I can do, however, is check in on the one person I had a conversation with about vaccinations, to see how I can support their decision with evidence and love. But sometimes even checking in [on] other people can be a big source of frustration. That means limiting my locus just to myself: Am I wearing a mask? Am I sleeping and eating right? Have I sent loving messages to those around me? Just those seemingly small check marks can reduce the anxiety I have about exposure, increased risk, or supporting my loved ones.” ― Riana Elyse Anderson, a psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health
I’m practicing radical acceptance.
“Right now, I am practicing radical acceptance (a distress tolerance skill). I have accepted the uncertainty of the situation, which doesn’t mean I like it or want it, but means I have chosen to say to myself, ‘This just is what it is and I cannot control this situation. I am focusing on what I can control.’ I focus on having a relaxing morning routine and doing things that relieve stress every day.” ― Rebecca Leslie, a psychologist in Atlanta
I lean into my hobbies.
“Arkansas is a COVID hot spot, so my COVID policies are self-care via masking, doing only telehealth sessions with clients, being vaccinated, and going out only when necessary, though I walk in nature for an hour daily with my dogs. To stay challenged, I’m learning two new hobbies ― knitting and woodworking. Bottom line, there’s a lot of lemonade that can be made from pandemic lemons.” ― Becky Whetstone, a marriage and family therapist in Little Rock, Arkansas, and co-host of “Curly Girls Relationship Show”
I seek harmony.
“When COVID became a thing, my big focus was on creating balance in my life. I worked hard at balancing being a great therapist, being my most present self to my two toddler children, being a listening ear to my medical colleagues working on the front lines, being an anchor to my extended family as they grieved the loss of several family members and friends, and taking the baton from my husband as he took on the lion share of pandemic parenting. This time around, I seek harmony. I am striving to live in the flow of my life by establishing routines, permitting myself not to follow routines, creating structures in my life, and allowing myself room to move within those structures. Less abstractly, I am listening more to what I need to be there for others. I am also accepting the limitations to my excellence. I am not here to find balance in all the many responsibilities and goals I have. I am here to live my life to the fullest, which means living in the flow of the good, bad, and blah days.” ― Dana Crawford, a psychologist and cultural bias consultant in New York City
I remind myself I’m doing all I can to stay safe.
“When I begin to feel anxious, as we all do ― often triggered by something I heard on the news, or a notice from my child’s school about another infection ― I fall back on cognitive behavioral tools. I remind myself of the statistics with this virus. Despite the high infection rate and the virulence of the delta virus, the death rate is still low. I remind myself that I am doing all I can do by following medical advice. I choose to put the rest of my worry on a shelf. I also choose to enjoy this present moment and not allow my fear to steal it from me. I will often repeat this to myself a few times, add some deep breaths and distract myself with a healthier thought, and I’m on my way again.” ― Zoe Shaw, a psychotherapist, relationship coach and author of “A Year of Self-Care”