Coping During COVID-19: Survive or Thrive-ish?

Photo of woman sitting on a rock looking at the sunset.

All over social media, there are two prominent and opposing pieces of advice for getting through this pandemic.

On one side is the self-growth/productivity camp. It offers ideas for how to take advantage of this time: Learn a new hobby, bake bread, exercise daily, eat well, etc.

On the other side is the lower your expectations/survival camp. It contends that our minds and bodies are under incredible stress right now and we are not able to respond or cope as we normally do. This camp offers variations on the theme of let go of expectations and allow survival to be enough.

So which camp is right? The answer is: probably both.

Our bodies and minds are experiencing incredible stress, and having unrealistic expectations can feed painful emotions such as guilt, despair and anger. Many of us are finding that our usual coping strategies are not working as well or at all.  Our emotions are all over the place. Our brains may feel scattered. It makes sense that we need to get through this time however we can. For me, that means that I have noticed an anxiety in my chest that I don’t normally have and doesn’t easily go away. I am eating more chips and ice cream than usual and my toddler is watching more tv than he normally would.

At the same time, it is important to try to focus on how to help ourselves respond beyond survival mode. I’m not talking about mastering a new language or being your most productive self. I am talking about doing things that nourish and feed your soul, even in a small way; that keep you on track somewhat (even if that track looks completely different right now); and that safeguard as much as possible your mental health.

This can mean making an effort to get outside or exercise as regularly as you can and accepting that this may mean daily or weekly or once during the pandemic. It means trying to do one manageable thing that you know will help you feel better. Take a shower, finish that work email, get back to a former hobby, take time to do something creative. Again, it doesn’t have to be daily or even weekly, it’s whatever you can manage.

It also means checking in with yourself once in a while.

How are you doing and what do you need right now?

Here is one way to do that:

  • Take a moment to notice your breath (if this feels ok to do – for many of us it doesn’t, in which case you could notice the feeling of your feet on the floor or try to observe and describe an object in the room you are in)
  • Try to notice what thoughts you are having, then what body sensations you feel, and then what emotions you are experiencing. Try to just notice them without trying to change or judge them.
  • Then ask yourself: “what do I need in this moment?” Notice whatever answer arises.

For me, sometimes the answer is that I need comfort food (back to the chips and ice cream). But sometimes I notice I am reaching for them and actually what I need is to remind myself that I am ok and to visualize life moving on when this is over. Sometimes the answer is that I need to “check out” for a few hours and watch tv. But other times I check in and realize that what I need is to get my body moving, eat a vegetable or go outside for five minutes.

Here are three visualizations that I recommend to work with difficult emotions that may arise:

1. Feeling overwhelmed thinking about how long this is going to go on?

Try to refocus your thoughts and mind on the end of this pandemic – visualize going about your daily routine and doing the things that you miss right now. Imagine the feeling of hugging someone. Imagine yourself talking to people in 10 years from now about the COVID-19 pandemic and how difficult it was and maybe what got you through. Imagine yourself being okay.

2. Are you missing going to that special place you used to go to unwind, or feeling like you need an escape from being in the same place all the time, or just need an emotional anchor?

Check out this ‘calm place’ visualization

Calm Place Visualization – EMDR Tool

3. Dealing with a particularly strong emotion or difficult situation?

Check out this guided visualization that will help you figure out how to access what you need to cope better

Guided visualization

Remember there is no magic formula. Most of us are in some state of survival mode and struggling more than we usually do. However, if you find that your emotions are in general overwhelming and unmanageable, and that you aren’t able to function, then do reach out for support. Whether that is to a friend, a therapist, or even a stranger on social media.

Photo of Mackenzie Kinmond, MSW Psychotherapist
Registered Social Worker & Psychotherapist

Mackenzie Kinmond (MSW, RSW) is a social worker psychotherapist at Aurum Medicine and Wellness Clinic. Her area of clinical focus is trauma and attachment difficulties. She works with individuals, couples, and families.

Learn more about Mackenzie at this link here.

Want to work with Mackenzie? Book a free call or virtual appointment at this link here.