10 Ways to Cope With Intense Emotions During the Coronavirus Crisis
Local grief and anger management counselors weigh in on how to sit with all your coronavirus feelings without lashing out.
These past two months have dredged up a LOT of feelings for many folks. The collective experience of this pandemic has been overwhelming, and it takes a ton of emotional energy to process all the transitions, changes, and losses. With so much out of our control, it can feel as though coronavirus has us moving through the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — on a daily basis.
To help you navigate whatever you may be feeling, we turned to local grief and anger management counselors for their 10 go-to coping tips. That way, you can better sit with — and get through — your sadness or anger, in order to bring more joy back into your life.
Acknowledge and validate your loss, no matter what it is.
Eric Spiegel, licensed psychologist and practice director at Attune Philadelphia Therapy Group, reminds us that losses come in all shapes and sizes. “We often think of loss as having to do with death,” he says, “but loss can also be about the death of what we have had to give up, like a wedding, graduation, or other life milestone.” The first step to processing your emotions, he says, is to put words to what you’re feeling, and give yourself permission to acknowledge and accept what you’ve lost, no matter what it may be.
This can be tough for some, though, especially if you feel like your loss isn’t as “bad” as someone else’s or you don’t want to admit vulnerability. Alisa Kamis-Brinda, owner of Serenity Solutions, says practicing acceptance helps us understand that this isn’t a competition; all loss is valid, and therefore, all grief is valid. Additionally, not accepting our painful emotions is similar to not scratching an itch: it’ll continue to bug us if we continue to dwell on it or don’t do something about it.
Focus on what’s in your control.
Right now, it might seem like so much is out of our control, which can make us feel angry, sad, or defeated. Lori O’Mara, owner of Cope Better Therapy, suggests we reframe our thinking by taking control of our daily lives through a routine. “Anxious brains want a plan and depressed brains need a plan,” she says. “When anxious thoughts creep in, bring yourself back to the present moment and focus on the tasks at hand. When depressive feelings arise, make a schedule and commit to it.” A routine can increase your sense of autonomy during a time when many things feel uncontrollable.
Look for the good within and despite the bad.
Looking for the good within the bad right now won’t bring back to life anyone who has died, nor will it make a job loss suddenly reappear. It can, however, help rearrange our values and how we spend our time and energy going forward. Clinical psychologist Walter J. Matweychuk believes searching for the good can help us carry on, despite any significant loss we may have suffered. “There can be something useful in the timeout imposed on our busy lives, like bringing into focus what truly matters, reconnecting with loved ones even from afar, and having a greater appreciation for human life and the ecosystem,” he says.
Beth Jellinek, licensed professional counselor, reminds us that self-care practices include attention to wellness, like getting good rest, exercise, a nutritious diet, a spiritual practice if you have one, as well as connecting to nature and nurturing relationships. However, it can also look like setting and maintaining boundaries, which may be necessary in terms of productively managing your negative emotions. “Right now, many of us are being asked to do more than our usual full plates can handle,” she says. “It’s worth knowing what things you can let go of or say no to, and when you need to reach out for help.” In terms of anger and grief specifically, Jellinek recommends limiting your news intake in order to preserve your emotional reserve.
Move your muscles.
If you’re the kind of person who can’t stand to sit still, then release pent-up energy and emotions through exercise. Spiegel says feeling your body in motion via physical activity can actually help you like you’re making progress mentally and emotionally. Running, biking, jumping rope, taking a barre class, and practicing yoga can be “ways of finding yourself through your body when you may feel lost, angry, or upset,” he says.
Start every day with an intention.
Similar to creating a routine, setting a daily intention can benefit your emotional health because it literally forces you to check in with your feelings (aka mindfulness!). Licensed professional counselor Elise Gaul says your intention and the subsequent choices you make should support how you want to feel that day. “If I need to be calm and present, I probably don’t want to start the day reading the news,” she says. “If I need energy and endurance, then I may need to move my body and eat something that will help with that.” Doing so can help us tune in to what we need in the moment and to “feel our feelings” as they arise, so that we can do our best to not take out our stress on others and hold space for joy and empathy.
Adapt where you can.
So many aspects of life currently don’t look or feel “normal,” and we’ve had to shift how we approach work, school, relationships, and even death. Kamis-Brinda reminds us that flexibility is an important coping skill, as it allows us to be open to change. “Even though we can’t see friends or family in person when we want to, we can be flexible and schedule video calls, virtual dinners, or game nights with them,” she says.
Additionally, O’Mara says finding ways to adapt through life events reminds us of our strength and capability. If you can’t Zoom a family member, snailmail them a handwritten letter or piece of art as a way to remind them you’re thinking of them. If you’re grieving the loss of a loved one right now and unable to attend a funeral or service, she says you can pay your respects in a less traditional way, like watching their favorite movie, planting flowers in their honor, or donating to a charity that meant something to them.
Reframe loss as an opportunity.
Spiegel says one of the most important qualities of resilience and post-traumatic growth is reframing a loss as an opportunity, though reframing doesn’t mean denying the loss. “We need to face our losses and be present with them in order to heal, as well as welcome the possibility that we can grow from facing this setback,” he says. Instead of fearing who or what we are losing, Spiegel suggests asking yourself, “What do I want to learn from my pain?” or “What is my pain teaching me?” When we turn to face our sadness, pain, or fear, eventually what felt unbearable might end up feeling tolerable, and you’ll have a better chance at discovering something positive about ourselves that we hadn’t yet recognized.
Remember you are not alone.
O’Mara says reminding yourself that we are all experiencing this pandemic together, albeit in different ways, can help decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation, as well as a mindset that you’re the only person dealing with hardship. Tapping into your community and doing your part can help us get through this together.
Consider talking with a therapist.
All of our experts agree that therapy can often help you get to the heart of your emotions and develop coping strategies specific to your needs. Gaul says therapy is especially beneficial right now because uncharted territory typically provokes anxiety, which can then lead to a sense of helplessness or depression. For a list of virtual mental health services in the Philly area, head here.