Coping With Change and Uncertainty

The COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything we’ve seen before, impacting all of our lives in unprecedented ways. Whether you’re concerned about staying healthy, worried about your finances or struggling with feelings of isolation, Dr. Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D., a friend of Elevations, has suggestions to help you cope with change and uncertainty from coronavirus.

Coping with Change and Uncertainty

Here are four steps to help you and your family cope during this time:

  • Acknowledge your feelings
  • Share those feelings with someone you trust
  • Find the intersection between the things that matter and the things that you can control
  • Find a way to increase your physical activity

How to Effectively Manage an Emotional Roller Coaster

During this time of uncertainty, you may experience a wide variety of intense emotions, including anger, fear, gratitude, joy and frustration from moment-to-moment. Rather than dismissing your emotions, label them as they come. Put a name on them, such as “I’m feeling angry” or “I’m feeling grateful,” instead of pretending they’re not there. While you experience these emotions, give yourself room to be a little off your game, and try to offer that same tolerance to others. This is an incredibly difficult time, and when our routines and sense of control are shaken, these feelings are completely normal.

Additionally, these intense feelings may seem to cause unconscious actions. For example, you may have a reflex to a strong emotion, such as feeling sad or scared, and react by grabbing an unhealthy snack. Instead of reacting, consider changing your focus to something else: Move around, look at something new, talk about something different or go to another room. Redirecting your reaction to something healthy can help you cope. And remember to take some time for yourself and think about how you may serve others during this time.

The 3 R’s to Not Socially Distance Yourself

While physical distancing is critical to prevent the spread of COVID-19, social distancing is not. Forced social withdrawal is referred to as isolation. Emotional damage does occur when we socially isolate ourselves. Instead, here are three ways to stay socially connected:

  • Reach out to family, friends and coworkers
  • Reconnect with others through a call or a video conference with those you may have lost touch with
  • Rise above and look for positive messages and actions

Remember that our mental health is fueled by our connections with others. 

Asking for Help

 “No man is an island, entire of itself.” – John Donne

Many of us are experiencing four common fears:

  • Infection
  • Near-term impact on personal finances
  • Investment losses
  • National and global economic recovery

Plus, feeling like we’re on an island may cause extended situational crises, such as: sleep disruptions, irritability, withdrawal, reduced activity, weight gain, anxiety, sadness and worsening of existing emotional conditions including addictions and compulsions.

Here are six actions to reduce the impact of this situational crisis:

  1. Prioritize what is needed to get through the moment, day or upcoming week, and maintain a routine.
  2. Acknowledge that worry about the unknown and uncontrollable takes away from the adaptive energy needed to take care of current and controllable needs.
  3. Moderate negative coping behavior such as excessive alcohol, unhealthy eating, inactivity, isolation, self-absorption and “catastrophizing.”
  4. Choose to stop negative behaviors.
  5. Choose to start healthy actions to elevate your mood, such as exercising, listening to music or reconnecting with friends over the phone or through video chat.
  6. Forgive your slip-ups and choose healthy alternatives next time. 

In cases when you or someone you know is experiencing one of the following, it’s time to ask for help from a mental health professional: 

  • Confused thinking
  • Depressed mood 
  • Irritability or anger
  • Extreme highs and lows, or suicidal thoughts
  • Excessive fears, worries or anxiety
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Addictive behavior (substances or experiences)
  • Unusual thoughts (delusions) or perceptions (hallucinations)

If you have immediate or urgent concerns, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline* at (800) 273-8255. If your concern is non-urgent, contact a mental health professional for help.

Remember that while most of us are feeling stress and fear, we will get through this. Prioritize and redirect future worries toward short-term solutions. Monitor and moderate less functional coping activities. And forgive yourself when you slip and choose healthy alternatives next time.

Managing a Marathon

Coping with the change and uncertainty caused by the coronavirus is turning out to be more of a marathon than a sprint.

It’s normal to wonder if you can endure the marathon of COVID-19. Unlike a marathon we do not have clear mile markers to tell us how much longer we have in this race.

Here are four tips to push through this marathon:

  1. Focus on your next step and take coping with COVID-19 one step at a time.
  2. Create a manageable set of goals, keep your feet moving and imagine a positive post-coronavirus world.
  3. Filter out information and misinformation that leads to denial or panic — instead focus on facts to stay in the “responsible action” zone.
  4. Drop any illusion of perfectionism in the context of loss. Be kind to yourself and others in grief.

Breath for Relaxation

Taking breathes from your diaphragm helps slow and deepen your breathing in order to help you relax.

Breathing tools:

  1. Diaphragmatic Breathing —Breathing deeply from your diaphragm instead of breathing from your chest can help you in times of uncertainty and high anxiety.
  2. 1 to 2 Breathing
  3. 3 second inhalation to 3 second exhalation
  4. 3 second inhalation to 6 second exhalation
  5. 4 second inhalation to 8 second exhalation
  6. 5 second inhalation to 10 second exhalation

Practice these breathing tools 10 minutes per day, during periods of increased anxiety and before sleep.

Dealing with Differences

How do we deal with different crisis responses?

Here are three tips to keep your strengths from becoming your weaknesses while coping with this change:

  1. Take time to list your strengths and vulnerabilities
  2. Ask a friend or family member to be your accountability partner and help you spot when “too much is too much”
  3. Be careful about judging others and limit how much polarizing information you consume

Every person will cope with COVID-19 and these changes differently. Your personality will shape this reaction. Personality tests like the Myers-Briggs, DISC and 16PF can be powerful tools to help you identify your personality strengths. You can find free versions of these personality tests online.

Visualizing and Planning a Post-Coronavirus World

Visualization helps you step out of your current circumstances and envision what you will think, feel and do in a post-coronavirus world.

These are the four keys to help you emotionally and from a problem-solving perspective:

  1. Visualize
  2. Set goals effectively
  3. Take action
  4. Recover quickly from missteps

Mindfulness

Mindfulness helps us reduce stress and anxiety while increasing relaxation and promoting sleep. For your mindfulness practice, set aside 15-20 minutes of your day to sit in a comfortable position in an area with no significant visual distractions like the TV or your computer.

The essence of mindfulness training is to focus on three things:

  1. Breath
  2. Body
  3. Thoughts

Humor, Play and Laughter

Laughter can truly be the best medicine. Help take care of your “amuse system” just as you try to take care of your immune system. Here are some things you can try:

  • Schedule a comedy break on a regular basis — maybe watch a funny sitcom or video online
  • Create a “Joy List” with little things that make you smile during the day
  • Good News, Bad News Technique — look for good news to help you not focus so much on bad news

Reframing

Think of your thoughts as an internal conversation — sometimes we need to change the conversation. This is called cognitive reframing.

Utilize the ACB Technique to identify the thoughts that are causing behaviors and consequences you don’t like. Reframe this thinking to find the consequence you want. The ACB Technique stands for:

  • Antecedent — thoughts
  • Behavior
  • Consequences

Progressive Relaxation

Progressive relaxation helps us avoid or lessen physical symptoms that come from chronic muscle tension and symptoms such as headaches, muscle pain or soreness. Progressive relaxation can also help with anxiety and sleep. Try to practice progressive relaxation 15 minutes every day.

Progressive relaxation steps:

  • Focus on tensing specific muscle groups one by one for 5 seconds. It’s essential to feel the tension in the muscles.
  • Relax the muscles that you have purposefully tensed before moving on to another group. Relaxing the muscles should be done smoothly but quickly. Remain in a relaxed state for about 10 seconds.
  • It’s important to focus and deliberately notice the difference between tense and relaxed muscles.
  • Progressively tense all your muscle groups from head to toe: neck, shoulders, triceps, biceps, hands, chest, stomach, lower back, thighs, calves and feet.

Isolating muscle groups gets easier with practice. Be careful not to tense muscles in an area with a known injury, and stop tensing if you experience sharp pain.

Financial assistance for Elevations members: We know that many Elevations Credit Union members are feeling the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and we are here to help you. We’ve set up a special team that’s prepared with solutions for our members who are experiencing financial hardships. As a member-owned financial institution, we are dedicated to serving our members and helping relieve stress around money in this difficult time. Learn more.*

About the Author:


Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D.
* is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience*. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” 

-John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, MEDITATION XVII

*This link leads to a third-party website

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