Rowan psychologist: 10 ways to cope with a pandemic

Rowan psychologist: 10 ways to cope with a pandemic


Feeling scared, angry, worried or stressed out over the coronavirus pandemic? 

You’re not alone, says Dr. Jeffrey Greeson, a clinical psychologist and Rowan University assistant professor of psychology

“Extreme reactions or levels of emotions we’ve maybe never felt before is understandable, because this is an unprecedented situation,” Greeson says. “A lot of people are feeling that same way.” Jeffrey Greeson

“It feels like too much,” Greeson acknowledges. “When things feel like they’re too much, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, or feel paralyzed or locked up.” 

Even so, says Greeson, there are ways to cope and surf those emotions, keeping them from sucking you down into a whirlpool of mental muck. 

1. Know your stress signature, your unique physical, mental, emotional and behavioral reactions to stress. Maybe you procrastinate and overindulge in comfort food, or perhaps you suffer headaches, break out in a rash, or lash out at minor irritations. 

“We usually automatically react to stress. We do it without having to try,” Greeson says. “We can pay more attention to that, though, first without having to change it.” 

Once you understand you’re stressed, Greeson says, you can address those emotions consciously and mindfully.

2. Simplify. Don’t think too far ahead, or you’ll be overwhelmed, Greeson says. Honor anxious thoughts by spending five or 10 minutes writing them down in a worry journal, and then leave them there. 

“Worry by nature is future-oriented,” Greeson says. “It pulls our attention away from the here and now. If we’re getting sucked into that, we lose the ability to act right now."

3. Control what you can control. Establish a predictable, consistent, comfortable routine. You’ll feel better.

4. Connect with other people. Social distancing should not mean social isolation. Reaching out enables you to take the focus off yourself. 

5. Monitor your information consumption. What are you consuming, and is it too much? 

6. Move. Get outside and take a walk. Spend time with nature, or enjoy your pets. If you can’t get out, find ways to move around inside. 

7. Recognize negative emotions: fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, grief. 

“We can, through acknowledging all these negative emotions, realize there’s another side of the emotional coin,” Greeson says. “It’s harder to feel them, but sometimes, they’re there.” 

Give fuel to positive emotions: compassion, patience, kindness, love. Show yourself kindness and compassion, and find concrete ways to demonstrate those emotions to others.  

8. Reframe negative thought patterns. Search for the positives. There are always other possibilities. By reframing those thoughts, you can regain a sense of control.  

“Can you see things in another way?” Greeson suggests. “Ask yourself, is there some way I might be able to grow as a result of going through this? What are my signature strengths, and when have I applied those in the past, and can I do that again right now?”   

9. Be mindful. Adopt a strategy to practice the four “As”: Attention, awareness, acceptance, action. Some people might use meditation, a mindfulness app, or breathing exercises. 

10. Rest. Find ways to relax your mind and body before going to sleep: take a warm bath, stretch, read a book, dim your worries, turn down the lights and quiet your mental energy. ​

Finally, think of this period as an opportunity to grow and develop new coping skills.  

“We get good at what we practice!” Greeson says. “If we don’t practice doing any of this, we’ll just default to doing it the same old, habitual way we always have.”