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Finding Hope & Staying Sane During the Pandemic [Part 1]

Karen Gould LMFTRecently, psychotherapist Karen Gould, LMFT gave a one-hour Zoom presentation to our GaGa Sisterhood about how to find hope and stay sane during the pandemic. Her talk covered the following topics:

  • why we feel anxious during these uncertain times
  • specific tools for reducing our anxiety
  • strategies for finding hope as we continue to face uncertainty

I’ve divided her information into two posts. This post explains why we feel anxious and provides some tools for reducing our anxiety. Part 2 will cover some strategies for finding hope as we continue to face uncertainty.

Why Does the Pandemic Make Us Anxious?

After months of sheltering in place, many of us are looking for ways to maintain our emotional and spiritual resilience. Psychotherapist Karen Gould, LMFT explained why we are having these feelings of angst, fatigue, and sadness. The pandemic has made us face an existential truth we try to forget. We have control of nothing! Many of us are used to making plans as if we do have control.

We make plans and live our lives planning celebrations and trips thinking that of course, they’re going to happen. We don’t expect life to cut us short. This pandemic has brought that fear front and center. The reason we do not want to live with that knowledge all the time is that we wouldn’t be able to move forward in our lives if we were constantly thinking that at any moment something horrible could happen. So we defend that and push it aside as much as we can.

But now it’s hard to push it aside. We may be experiencing grief or trauma because a loved one suddenly died, or we suddenly lost our job or came down with an illness.

Karen hears stories from her clients that they’d be going through their day and feel so fatigued. But they pushed themselves to complete a task. She explains to them that if a friend just lost a spouse, you wouldn’t tell her to “go ahead and get moving.” You’d say “Allow yourself to rest.” We need to understand that the fatigue and sadness that comes and goes in waves throughout the day is real and we must listen to it and our bodies.

We’re also feeling increased anxiety because of the pandemic. Anxiety is an important emotion that we first experience as young children and then for the rest of our lives we try not to feel that emotion. We develop ways to cope with that emotion by drinking or eating too much. Right now everyone’s anxiety is heightened. Anxiety is worry about the future. Depression is feeling bad about the past. We don’t know what the future looks like and that’s what’s causing us such discomfort. To not have a vision of what the future will look like is anxiety-provoking. It’s like walking into a dark room where we’ve never been before and trying to find the light switch.

Tools for Reducing Anxiety

Think about what you need. As women, we’re always caregivers and want to do for others. While the thought of doing something for ourselves makes us feel selfish. It’s important to take care of ourselves so that we have the energy to do for others around us.

Create boundaries

  • Tell people around you to stop texting COVID stories right before you go to bed.
  • If you’re sharing space with other people, make an agreement about the use of space.
  • If you live alone, ask friends for what you need in terms of connection.
  • Ask for COVID-free phone calls when you talk to friends.
  • Watch out for addiction to the news. Read the news for 10 minutes in the morning and don’t look at it again for the rest of the day if possible.

Calming Techniques

  • Breath in deeply to the count of 5 and then let it out slowly to the count of 10. Do this 3 times in a row.
  • Wrap yourself in a warm blanket that you warmed in the dryer.
  • Take a warm Epsom salts bath which relaxes muscles and provides magnesium.
  • Move your body. Just walking up and down the street can be calming. Stretch or do one yoga pose for 10 minutes. Lay on your back and look up at the sky.
  • Meditate or be mindful. Just suggesting the word meditation causes anxiety for people because they don’t know how or think they’re not supposed to have a thought. For those who are challenged by meditation, be mindful which means to pause and be present.
  • Visualize a time in your life when you felt unconditionally loved, safe, and secure. Karen uses this technique to lower her blood pressure when she visits her doctor. Just being in the doctor’s office causes her blood pressure to rise so she visualizes herself as a child with her grandparents.
  • Scribble Draw. Take a piece of paper and draw a big loopy scribble. Then take some crayons and color in the loops. This calming technique connects left brain and right brain functions. Neuroscience has shown that drawing lowers anxiety, BP, and heart rate. The same thing is true with knitting, crocheting, playing piano, kneading bread dough, and working on jigsaw puzzles.

The next post offers Karen’s strategies for finding hope as we continue facing uncertainty.

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