In this time of global concern and stress, it is worth taking a moment to make sure we are taking care of ourselves and our families. Part of this is taking care of our mental health, which means managing the stress as effectively as we can.

“The vast majority of cases are going to be mild, and people are going to recover just like they do from a cold or flu-like illness.”
— Dr. Amesh Adalja
Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security

and breathe

Below are some links to resources that could be helpful. I want to briefly outline the tips that the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists put together. Their public service announcement is aimed at reducing anxiety and stress during this time:

  1. Practice acceptance. It is normal to feel uneasy at this time. Allow for your feelings and also allow for the fact that most of us are not in immediate danger, that we’re working together to find solutions.
  2. Make a plan. Comfort yourself by controlling what you can, like washing your hands. Check out the Red Cross Coronavirus Safety and Readiness Tips, and share your readiness plan with your family.
  3. Stay in the present moment. When we bring our mind into the present, we realize that we’re ok. Make sure your mind is where your body is. Use a mantra, if that’s helpful—“This too shall pass.” Meditate. When you feel overwhelmed, turn your attention to your five senses to ground yourself.
  4. Don’t overexpose yourself to the news. Repeatedly viewing or listening to the same scary story can push your nervous system into full panic mode. Schedule just a few times a day to turn on the news or look at the internet for about 20 minutes at a time. Set a timer to keep yourself from fixating on the scary stuff.
  5. Pay attention to your body. Our brains and our bodies are intricately connected. We feel better emotionally when we feel physically rested. Make sure you are eating healthy, getting a little exercise, and practicing good sleep hygiene. See if you can find a part of your body that feels at peace and calm. Sit with it a bit, see if you can visualize or describe the sensation—maybe it’s a shape, a color, a sound… Check-in with yourself a couple times a day in this way.
  6. Practice deep, slow breathing. When you practice this, you’ll feel less anxious because your lungs will send a message through your vagus nerve to your brain that all is well. Breath in for a count of six, breath out for a count of six; do this for one full minute or more.
  7. Stay connected. We are biologically wired to connect with one another, there is real healing in connection. Make sure you’re not isolating more than necessary. Use technology to your advantage, using video chats and other means, as appropriate. Instead of social distancing, think physical distancing.
  8. Keep a balanced perspective. Even in the most challenging times, we can find a few aspects of our lives that are going well. If you realize you haven’t laughed or smiled in a while, watch a funny show or call a friend who makes you laugh. Even amid a crisis, we can find silver linings.

The only other thing I will add is to support one another in your relationship as much as you can. The best way, at this point, is to practice having a stress-reducing conversation. For tips on how to do this, see the blog Holiday Survival Kit, the last bullet point. If you find yourself in conflict with your partner (e.g., differences of opinion as to how much you should be going out), be sure to discuss things calmly. It is essential to avoid the four horsemen—see 3 Ways To Stay Calm When Your Partner is Driving You Nuts!; How to Get Rid of Criticism and Defensiveness; and Contempt, the Battery Acid for guidance around this. If it feels like the discussion has turned into one that is all too familiar, it may be a perpetual issue. In this case, talking about it in a specific way is important—see Do the Same Arguments Keep Coming Up Again and Again With Your Partner?

Here are a few reminders and suggestions for talking to your partner if you find you’re feeling frustrated and misunderstood:

  1. Remember, your partner has good intentions, and your partner loves and values you!
  2. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re likely to be more reactive, and it’s much harder to connect with your partner. Practice grounding yourself first, by understanding how your body feels and what your core emotions are (the ones underneath whatever irritation, anxiety, or anger you may be experiencing).
  3. Ask your partner what his/her perspective and emotions are, being intentional about listening to understand, not listening to respond. Your partner has valid feelings about this, too! Your emotions and your partner’s underlying emotions make sense—focus on learning how.
  4. During and after listening to your partner share, reflect back what you heard him/her say to check for accuracy. Invite your partner to add or clarify.
  5. Validate your partner’s perspective and emotions (make sure to ask what he/she is feeling!): “It sounds like you’re feeling       because      . That makes sense to me! (or:) I would feel that way if I were in your shoes.”
  6. Switch roles and have your partner listen while you share.

Phew! That’s a lot of information! My hope is that you and yours stay healthy and that we pull together to make it through this challenging time as safely as possible.

My thanks to Wren Gray-Renebrg, AMFT (AMFT 109983), for her contributions to this blog.

Helpful Resources

California Department of Public Health:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Red Cross:

CAMFT (California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists):

NPR:

There is also good news around all this. Peter Diamandis has been collecting some of these stories, so tune in for the positive as well.

If you want to give meditation a try, Headspace is making available a Weathering the Storm collection, free for everyone. It includes meditations, sleep, and movement exercises to help you out.

BJ Fogg, Director of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University and author of Tiny Habits, is offering Tiny Habits for Coronavirus Challenges.

If you need support from a mental health professional, and you are in California, you can contact me for my availability. I also offer telehealth as a remote option. You may also contact Wren Gray-Renebrg, or reach out to one of these resources to find a therapist near you:

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LeMel Firestone-Palerm, LMFT, LPCC, CGT
LeMel Firestone-Palerm, LMFT, LPCC, CGT About LeMel...
LeMel Firestone-Palerm, LMFT, LPCC, CGT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist MFC 42162
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor LPC 1534
Certified Gottman Therapist