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JMcCasslinCoping with COVID-19

Jessica McCaslin, Therapist

Feelings of stress, anxiety, fear, and depression are all normal reactions to the pandemic. Humans have an instinct for survival, and that includes identifying and reacting to things that are dangerous in the environment. Our stress hormones and adrenaline kick in, readying our fight-or-flight response system; however, in the COVID-19 situation, we are working against that system because we’ve been asked to sit-and-stay. So, for pretty much everyone (in the world), anxiety has increased because we have no idea how to react. Following are skills you can use to help you cope with the pandemic and negative reactions that arise. Some coping skills will work for you; some won’t. Everyone is different, so you may need to try something else. Therapists at Family Resources of Greater Nebraska are available by telehealth; call 308-381-7487 for an appointment.


This is the most common of all therapists’ recommendations. There are apps out there to help you meditate or be mindful. Focusing on your breathing brings you into the moment. Your brain sends signals to your heart and lungs to increase speed when it’s preparing for the fight-or-flight response. In reverse, your lungs can send messages to the brain. Slowing your breathing will slow your heart, and it will send the message to your brain to calm down.


We thrive on routines and schedules, even hectic, busy ones. So try to keep a schedule. Go to bed and get up around the same time, eat meals around the same time, and do other things like normal, even small things like getting dressed and brushing your teeth! Remember to be a bit flexible in your scheduling so you don’t stress about unexpected things that arise, like making lunch for kids, and then a snack 2 minutes later because they are still starving! Throw some self-care time in the schedule, too.

You Gotta Move It-Move It

Get up and move. Take some time throughout the day to stretch or exercise. There are free resources online for exercising in your home. You can modify workouts to your level and still get a good amount of movement and exercise. Or simply have a dance party with your kids! Aerobic exercise reduces stress in the body.

You Are What You Eat

Stress and eating habits don’t usually mix very well. Some people eat more and some eat less (or completely forget to eat). Try to keep a healthy diet. Also, drink a lot of water to stay hydrated. It helps flush out those nasty things our bodies naturally create. An additional benefit of eating well and staying hydrated is a better immune system!

Limit Social Media and News

There’s a lot out there about COVID-19, and a lot of inaccuracies and unknowns included. You could spend all day reading about it, just to have the information change the next day. Some of it is meant to scare you which isn’t helpful if you’re already anxious. Find a trusted news source and stick to it. Also, stick local, or mostly local. The world is a big place and it can be overwhelming to look at the stats for the whole world, or even another country or state. Getting a big picture is okay at times but you have more control over your immediate surroundings and your behaviors in this situation.

Focus on the Positives

While the virus is scary and we’ve given up many things, we can find positives in our lives. There’s more time with our kids or spouse, time to do house projects or hobbies, or time to delve deeper into our faith. Find 3 positive things each day and write them down; it can actually help rewire your brain to think more positively.

*Keep doctor and therapy appointments.* 

*Contact a therapist if your normal coping skills aren’t sufficing or you need to process what is happening*

*Continue taking meds for physical or mental health, & be evaluated for changes.*

Helping Yourself Cope

It’s Okay to Grieve
It’s a time of sacrifice & loss. You can grieve the things you’ve given up, & it’s okay when others grieve. Whether it’s death, graduation, senior high “lasts,” or freedom, it’s okay to be sad about losses.

It’s Temporary
Take time daily to remind yourself that this situation is only temporary. It, too, shall pass & we will get back to our busy lives.

Help Others
Be safe and maintain social distancing but maybe you can buy groceries for elderly parents or mow someone’s yard. Buy local to help keep businesses running. Helping others takes the focus off our negative feelings, and gives us a sense of accomplishment and community.

Take 5
Keep yourself in the moment by finding 5 things related to your 5 senses - sight, hearing, smell, taste & touch.

Control It
Find something you can control & take charge! Clean out that closet. Attack that messy garage & make room for your car. Paint a picture.

Eat An Ice Cube
The sudden change of temperature triggers a physiological response in our bodies, signaling our brain to mellow out. Try freezing different flavors for a little zest!

Do Repetitive Movements
Repetitive movements (knitting, coloring, jumping) especially left-right movement (running, drumming, tapping) can be
effective at self-soothing & maintaining self-regulation.

Give Grace
There’s no book on how to handle the pandemic. You will make mistakes, & so will others. Forgive yourself & each other. We’re all doing what we can with the resources we have. We’ll learn as we go.

Life is a Recipe
Divide your life into manageable measurements, just like you did when your schedule was packed. Take little chunks of time to deal with something that may seem overwhelming as a whole. You may be able to do a day at a time. Or 5 minutes. Do whatever works for you & realize it can change moment to moment.

Laughter is good for the soul. Check out the plethora of virus song parodies, or watch things that have nothing to do with the virus, like funny animals or “dad jokes.”

Get Outside
Keep safe social distancing but get outside. Get that vitamin D from the sun and feel the wind. Go for a hike. Prep your garden. Mow the lawn. Simply opening the windows to let fresh air into the house will help (minus  allergies).

Have “Me” Space/Time
Everyone needs their own space & time to simply be. You can schedule it into your day (naptimes for littles, quiet room time) or simply take it as you need it. It’s also important to have “work” & “school” spaces in your home so you aren’t constantly battling set-up & tear-down when the space needs to change (like for meals on the kitchen table).

Reach Out to Others
Utilize technology to reach out to loved ones & friends. Check in with others & ask them to check in on you. Yell greetings across the street to a neighbor. Go on the cruise nights. We are social animals by nature, so socialize in a safe way.

Create a Wellness Toolkit
Make a list of the coping skills you can utilize. Some (like hanging out with friends) may need modified for social distancing but many are things you can do alone or with your immediate quarantine group. The ideas are limitless but here’s a few to get you started:
Board games
Online games
Listen to music
Blow bubbles
Take a walk
Learn a new language
Take a shower/bath
Ride a horse
Watch TV
Hug/Pet your pet
Call a friend
Build something 

Helping Children Cope

  • Set up virtual playdates with friends they miss their friends, too!
  • Create a comfort box they can use when overwhelmed. Things inside could include a stuffed animal, sensory toys, crayons and a coloring book/paper, favorite snack.
  • Play with your children. They need attention. Play is how they process their world and problem solve. You may see themes of illness, doctor visits, and isolation.
  • Expect behavioral issues, and respond gently. You may see increased anxiety, worries, fears, nightmares, difficulty separating or sleeping, testing limits, and meltdowns. Do not do big changes (there’s enough of that going around!); rather, show them stability, safety, love, and focus on connecting through hugs, play, and verbal affirmations.
  • Talk to your children. Use age-appropriate language and information (you wouldn't tell a 5-year-old the same thing as a 15-year-old). Keep news and alarming conversations out of earshot. They can become very frightened by what they hear or how they see you reacting.
  • Use the arts. The emotional side of our brain loves the creative arts, and children are very connected with their emotional brains. Allow them to be creative and to express themselves through sculpting (PlayDoh), drawing, dancing, music, singing, playing.
  • Don’t sweat over school assignments. Communicate with teachers when you don’t understand an assignment or are having difficulty completing something for school.
  • Show your child how to problem-solve, communicate, use teamwork, and show respect through  your actions. They’re watching.


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