How to Cope With Common Stressors During the COVID-19 Crisis

Still feeling all the feels several months into this pandemic? You don’t have to go it alone. Here, local therapists offer their survival strategies for the most common COVID-induced stressors.

Illustration by Jeannie Phan

THE PROBLEM: I’m still feeling anxious about the uncertainty of, well, just about everything.

How to cope: To manage and reduce frayed nerves, Lisa Lewis, a psychologist and adjunct professor at Northeastern University, first recommends “unpacking the problem”—then asking yourself if there’s anything you can do about it. Worried about how a sputtering economy will affect your family? Try making a new budget or restructuring your retirement contributions. “On the other hand, excessive worry about things you are unable to change can take a toll,” she says. So if something beyond your control is keeping you up at night, try to put it aside for now.

THE PROBLEM: My older relatives are making me feel guilty for not hanging out with them this summer.

How to cope: Understand that your loved ones are likely dealing with some tough emotions, too, but don’t cave. “This crisis may be the first time some of our friends and family members have been confronted as ‘older’ or ‘at risk,’” says Janna Koretz, psychologist and founder of Boston-based Azimuth Psychological. “This may be a strange concept for them to internalize.” A little diplomacy can go a long way toward making everyone feel better: Instead of blaming them, simply express your concern that getting together will put everyone at risk, and suggest continuing regular video chats through the summer.

THE PROBLEM: I’m emotionally exhausted and can barely find the energy to get through the day.

How to cope: “It’s normal to feel depleted when life gets small,” Lewis says. “It’s actually a good sign when a client can identify this change in energy and motivation.” If you’re noticing this in your own routine, Lewis suggests finding one thing you can take off your plate—then adding an activity that may invigorate you, such as going for a jog or cooking a meal. “Even though it might require a bit of energy, if it adds more than it takes away, that’s a net gain.”

THE PROBLEM: I feel a sense of loss because nothing is the same anymore.

How to cope: We’ve all lost something or someone through this experience. Nothing is, or will be, quite like it once was, and we have to make space for that grieving to take place. Once you’ve done that, making time to celebrate moments big and small can go a long way toward lifting your spirits, says Damon Pryor, a Dedham-based mental health counselor. Bummed that your high school senior won’t have a proper graduation? He suggests throwing an at-home ceremony complete with a cap and gown. Of course, if you can’t shake the feeling of sadness, do call a pro. “Depression is normal in the short term, but harmful and dangerous if it lingers over time,” Lewis adds.

THE PROBLEM: I want to be productive, but my lack of focus is just making me feel bad about myself.

How to cope: The most important thing to remember is that you cannot hold yourself to your pre-pandemic standards. So start small: Kirsten Newman, a therapist at the Leggett Group, recommends developing a structured routine that offers predictability throughout the day, then “trying to break down tasks into smaller chunks, and taking frequent breaks to avoid being overwhelmed.” And if you’re still having trouble focusing? Maybe now isn’t the time to resume that long to-do list. Give yourself some grace.