Being Very Intentional in Managing Responses to the Coronavirus Pandemic
By William D. Parham, Ph.D., ABPP
The necessary, prudent, and abrupt alterations of the current academic semester have likely triggered a range of emotions! Progressively managed announcements about impending change coupled with the recent announcement by California Gov. Gavin Newsom of the unprecedented Safer at Home Executive Order, the first state to enact a mandate for citizens to remain at home, heightens the seriousness of this global pandemic.
Emotional Responses Likely to Emerge:
Know that the range as well as the intensity of emotions will be different for each member of the LMU community. The unique experiences of faculty, students, staff, and administrators will be addressed in detail in subsequent narratives. It is very probable that emotions will all come and go (ebb and flow) throughout the course of this crisis. The range of emotions will likely include anxiety, panic, fear, uncertainty, confusion, feeling blindsided, hypervigilance, depression, sadness, mourning, an increased sense of vulnerability, boredom, and a heightened awareness of the needs for self-care. Care of family and others in personal circles of influence become prominent items on personal to-do lists.
The intensity of the above emotions will vary across time between high, medium and low and will be influenced by the need to attend to other ongoing life realities (e.g., parenthood, financial pressures, relationship challenges, family discord, faith-based practices, etc.) that continue despite the sudden and off-the-radar crisis by which the LMU and cities, state, national, and global communities are consumed. For international students, staff, and colleagues, current social-political-economic-health realities of their home communities add extra layers of concerns.
Be aware that the complexity, enormity, disruptive, and ever-changing characteristics of this pandemic are also likely to surface emotions that are tied to past experiences when you felt overwhelmed, caught off-guard, even traumatized. The recent deaths of several colleagues in our LMU family, remembering the exact moment when you received news of a loved one’s life-altering experience, or recalling past terrifying and devasting personal, family, or community abuses, attacks, violations or transgressions, still unresolved, represent cases in point. It is also important to note that a sense of hope, resilience, and feelings that better days lie ahead are also predicted to emerge. It is important to hold on to these beliefs.
Responding with Intention to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Seeking to find calm in this current storm of ambiguity, doubt, and uncertainty, prompts the following strategies for consideration. While we have little to no control over what is happening, we have 100% control over how we respond to the challenges with which we are now confronted. And, we have ‘response’ control over how we think, feel, and behave.
1. Relative to THINKING:
It has been said that when we change the way we think about things then the things we think about change. While it is true that we can’t change the current situation we can, nonetheless, change how we think about it. In short, we can give into panic, distress, angst and anguish or we can acknowledge these feeling of concern and then tap into our sense of hope, expectancy, and abilities to be resilient. Pause and consider that stars shine their absolute brightest during the darkest part of night. The current pandemic represents an unexpected dark time in our lives, And, we have the star power to illuminate a path forward as our collective journeys continue.
2. Relative to FEELING:
Acknowledge all feelings that surface! And, because you may not be able to fully understand or explain your feelings at any given moment during this pandemic, doesn’t mean that they are any less valid. That being said, expressing feelings is as important as using times when you get emotionally overwhelmed to reflect on the sources from which the feeling might be emerging. Rarely are feelings that surface in response to current traumas or stressors solely and exclusively related to those current traumas or stressors. They are likely also tied to past situations and circumstances that remain unacknowledged or unresolved. In this regard, if finding ways to better manage emotions that feel overwhelming, then speaking with a mental health professional or trusted ally might be considered. There are licensed, and vetted, mental health practitioners who can speak with you using telehealth tools such as Zoom. And, consider that feelings are much like waves. We can’t stop them from coming but we can choose on which ones to surf.
3. Relative to BEHAVING:
a. On a daily/every other day basis, gather the latest facts about the COVID-19 pandemic. Rely only on science-based information as templates for action. Resist reliance on fake news, mere talk, rumors, hunches, hearsay, buzz, word of mouth, or scuttlebutt.
b. Comply with guidelines for safety and prevention as set forth in documents authored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); the World Health Organization (WHO) and that have been communicated by executive leadership of LMU.
c. Choose to honor the strategy of social spacing, a critical strategy for managing this pandemic, while resisting urges to settle for social isolation. In this regard, consider playing board games with family members; using Zoom, Team, and other social-connection tools to stay in contact with colleagues, mentor students, convene program and department meetings and celebrations, and engage in important conversations. Using YouTube to learn new skills including meditation, cooking, and Tai Chi are also recommended.
d. Choose to continue pre-existing disciplined routines relative to when you wake-up, go to bed, eat, exercise, entertain friends, pursue leisure activities, and honor faith-based practices. In short, exercise control over that which you can. Tapping into the control you have provides some counterbalance to situations and circumstances that trigger feeling out of control. Also, know that discipline is the difference between what you want now and what you want most. We can do this … one day at a time!
e. It is important to make time for self-care and engage in activities that you know through past experiences are good at restoring a sense of balance and ‘chill’ to your life.
f. Develop mental health literacy. For example, educate yourself about experiences such as anxiety. Understand that anxiety is like a two-sided coin. On one side, know that anxiety experienced occasionally is normal and adaptive! In a very real sense, anxiety is the body’s reaction to an actual or perceived threat. It is our personal alarm system that is an innate self-protection tool used for survival. When viewed in this way, anxiety can feel beneficial and welcomed. The current pandemic qualifies as a threat!
On the flip side, anxiety becomes problematic when it begins to feel like it is ever-present, ongoing, excessive, intense, seemingly uncontrollable and driven by persistent and seemingly inescapable worrying. When experienced in these ways, anxiety feels bad and triggers strong needs to find relief, sometimes by any means necessary. Listen to your body to determine which side of the coin is more dominant.
g. Related, learn ways to manage anxiety. This is important because there are both healthy and unhealthy ways of managing anxiety. Some of the unhealthy ways include increased use of alcohol or drugs, overeating, undereating, increased spending of money on unnecessary items, increased gambling, increased promiscuity, distancing yourself from persons (e.g. family, friends) who are close to you, increased impulsivity relative to business decisions, increased high-risk behaviors (excessive speeding in cars or motorcycles, engaging in unprotected sexual activity, etc.), noticeable increases in on-line shopping that is far in excess of customary time and typical spending habits, spending time on the variety of social media that is in excess of the time you typically allot yourself and decreased attention to personal grooming and self-care, to name a few. There are healthy ways of managing anxiety that is interfering in your life. Talking with mental health professionals or trusted allies knowledgeable represents one option. Learning about depression, panic disorders, phobias and other emotions that are likely to emerge during this COVID-19 crisis represent topics to add to your personal mental health literacy curriculum. Similar to anxiety, each of the aforementioned experiences is a two-sided coin one side of which surfaces an enriched understanding of and deepened appreciation for the importance of self-protection.
h. Become familiar with several reputable mental health resources that provide tips, ideas, thoughts, and tool kits for your consideration and selection. Said resources include but are not limited to: (a) Mental Health America, (b) National Institute of Mental Health, (c) the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (d) the World Health Organization, (e) American Psychological Association, (f) National Alliance for Mental Illness, (g) Psychology Today, and (h) National Association of Social Work. Links to these resources are included below. Make time to educate yourself with these helpful tips and suggestions.
In closing, don’t underestimate the immediate and longer-term disruptive nature of this COVID-19 pandemic. The mental, emotional, and psychological toll can be significant and potentially life-altering. Opportunities to re-discover what is really important, to embrace family and friends more intentionally, and to do something today that is better than you did yesterday knowing that it won’t be as good as what you will accomplish tomorrow are real possibilities. Keep in mind that your safety, health, and wellbeing are driving all actions and decisions that are recommended by the above-referenced trusted sources. Become educated, stay current with this quickly unfolding situation, engage in self-care, and work with LMU leadership and other systems of support as we navigate these turbulent seas of uncertainty. Without question, COVID-19 has launched unprecedented challenges for the global citizenry. It has also ignited unprecedented responses from scientific, medical, psychological, faith-based and mental health communities. Their collective energies will be needed throughout the course of this crisis and will likely stimulate us to seek and discover the abundant opportunities hidden within the varied challenges spawned by this very serious global pandemic. Take care of yourself…and each other! Stay tuned.
William D. Parham, Ph.D., ABPP
Professor & Interim Associate Dean of Faculty
Responding to Coronavirus Anxiety
- American Psychological Association; Pandemics
- General resources and links to external websites.
- American Psychological Association; Five Ways to View Coverage of the Coronavirus
- Tips to help you manage your anxiety, put news reports in perspective and maintain a positive outlook.
- American Psychological Association; Speaking of Psychology: Coronavirus Anxiety
- Baruch Fischhoff, Ph.D., explains why we worry about new risks more than familiar ones, how to calm our anxiety and what are the psychological effects of being quarantined
- American Psychological Association; Coronavirus threat escalates fears — and bigotry Psychologists are pointing to their research to help quell anxiety about a possible pandemic.
- American Psychological Association; Seven crucial research findings that can help people deal with COVID-19
- Psychological research on past crises can help people cope with the daily — sometimes hourly — newsflashes about the coronavirus.
- Centers for Disease Control; Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19
- How to reduce stress in yourself and others; also includes information for parents, information for responders, and information for people released from quarantine.