Our world is changing rapidly at the moment. We are living in an unprecedented time and, given some of the news coverage, it would be hard not to worry about what it all means for ourselves and for those we love.
With all the uncertainty ahead of us, it is normal to feel anxious, guilty, sad, frustrated, fearful, or angry. These feelings are not problematic and are natural. However, it is our behaviour in response to these feelings that are most important. It is likely that the COVID-19 situation will be more like a marathon than a sprint. Thus, some behaviours that help us cope with uncertainty and difficult emotions in the short term do not necessarily work in the long term.
Some of these potentially unhelpful behaviours in the long term include over analysing possible future scenarios or constantly checking the news, which may feel like having a sense of control in the short term but, while it is important to stay informed, it is also important to be mindful of the things that one can control as opposed to putting all of one’s energy in what they cannot control.
Another short-term unhelpful coping mechanism is that we find ourselves looking for distractions, but it is important to acknowledge one’s emotions so that they can be addressed when one is ready to do so. Eventually, it is critical that one finds the resources and tools to help deal with emotions that are bothering them.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
This is an evidence-based approach that can be used to recognise and accept the reality of difficult internal processes and identify ways to empower the person towards value-guided actions in response to these difficult internal experiences. This approach views thoughts, feelings, urges, physical sensations as an understandable product of our learned history and current situation.
Dr Russ Harris, a world-renowned ACT clinician, put together a very helpful ACT resource which can be applied in everyday life and in times of crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic.
The acronym below is a great guide.
|F||=||Focus on what’s in your control|
|A||=||Acknowledge your thoughts & feelings|
|C||=||Come back into your body|
|E||=||Engage in what you’re doing|
|D||=||Disinfect and distance|
1. Focus on what’s in your control
There is so much going on in the world today that is outside your control. You cannot control the coronavirus. You cannot control the future. You also may not be able to control what is showing up in your thoughts and feelings but what you can control is your actions and how you respond effectively to this crisis in the ‘here’ and ‘now’.
2. Acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations
Bring a sense of curiosity to what is showing up with you in a given moment. Approach these experiences like a scientist would and observe these with curiosity and compassion. If you are feeling overwhelmed and notice certain thoughts on repeat, then move onto Step 3.
3. Come back into your body
A good simple grounding exercise to connect with your physical body is to gently push your feet into the ground and just focus on noticing what this feels like.
4. Engage in what you are doing in this moment
There may be many distractions right now. If you find that your mind is often distracted, do something to refocus on what is happening in this moment. This might be noticing the sights, sounds, and smells around you. After engaging in the present moment, bring your full attention to the task at hand.
5. Committed action
Flexibly doing what matters to you when you face challenges. With the current pandemic restrictions, flexibility and creativity are key to this. See if there are new ways to do things that you enjoy or care about. This can include having a virtual meal with a friend or trying a new exercise routine online.
6. Opening up
This means noticing and making space for difficult thoughts, feelings, or bodily sensations that are showing up for you as this crisis unfolds. This does not mean you like these experiences. This is like saying, ‘I will have you because you are already here.’ This is letting go of things you can’t control. A simple way to practise opening up to thoughts and feelings is to label these. For example, this might be like saying, ‘I notice I am having a thought that I can’t do anything I want to.’ Or ‘I am noticing a feeling of anxiety or tightness in my chest.’
Check in with what’s important. Moments of crisis can be a very important time to reconnect with your values or the things that are important to you in life. Your values might include love, respect, humour, integrity, courage, honesty, kindness, etc. Find ways to instill or ‘sprinkle’ your values into your day. Furthermore, you might find your values are changing in the light of the current situation or that you’re balancing a number of different values at this time. Whatever the case, it can be helpful to regularly reflect the following questions:
• What kind of person do I want to be during this pandemic?
• Who are my heroes/heroines?
• What qualities do I admire in them?
• How would they act in this situation?
• Once this is all over, what do I want to be proud of looking back?
8. Identify resources
It is important to identify resources like social support to help you manage during these times. This includes friends, family, health professionals, or emergency services. In addition, let others know if you can be a resource for them.Last, find a reliable and reputable source of information like The World Health Organization website and Oman’s Tarassud App.
9.Disinfect and distance
As per the recommendations, disinfect your hands regularly and practise as much social distancing as realistically possible for the greater good of your community. Remember, physical distancing does not mean cutting off emotionally. You can still connect virtually with loved ones.
In conclusion, dealing with and facing the Covid-19 pandemic will be a community effort and remember, as more world problems appear and ’emotional storms’ show up within us, come back to the steps of F.A.C.E C.O.V.I.D.