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Coping with COVID-19

March 17, 2020

The outbreak of the infectious disease COVID-19 is causing individuals and communities high levels of distress and anxiety. You are not alone if you feel some degree of anxiety as we cannot fully anticipate how the current pandemic will evolve and how it may affect us directly. It is helpful to understand the range of reactions we may experience and ways to handle the stress as we face uncertainty. Be conscious of common distress reactions including insomnia, decreased feeling of safety, or health concerns that are preoccupying and distracting. Here are set of things to be mindful of in the weeks ahead in order to minimize emotional distress:

Excessive Worrying

Many of us tend to think repeatedly about a problem, over and over again, in an endless loop. This can happen throughout the day and may be particularly disruptive at night when trying to fall asleep. Our brains are hardwired to think about a problem in an attempt to find a solution. However, when these worried thoughts become repetitive and are not leading to helpful answers, they maintain anxieties and do not alleviate them.

As a first step, recognize when anxiety is becoming preoccupying. If that happens, step back and give yourself permission to stop the thoughts. Next, actively choose to distract yourself – listen to music, watch your favorite show, read a book, or engage yourself in any other enjoyable activity to keep your mind occupied.

Seeking Information

It is natural, when contending with the unknown, to feel compelled to find information. Checking the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), or other reputable news source, once or twice a day, is sufficient to keep up to date. CDC and WHO are headed by public health experts, who offer updated information and specific recommendations for protecting one’s health and the health of the community.

While it is a good idea to seek information from these reliable sources, be aware that flooding yourself repeatedly throughout the day can be overwhelming, adding to the distress and unnecessary preoccupation. Likewise, some traditional media and social media can magnify fears and, at times, provide incorrect information.

Preserve Your Normal Routines and Connections

As we adjust to the sweeping cancellations of events, meetings, and large gatherings, it is important to avoid being socially isolated. You should rely more on your connections with family and friends during stressful times. Communicate over phone, via text, or on the computer if you are concerned about possible exposure to the virus.

Keeping to normal routines and continued engagement in enjoyable activities are particularly helpful in difficult times. Focus on what you can control in your world right now. This control includes following the recommendations of public health experts – washing hands, staying home if ill, contacting your healthcare provider if you have symptoms, speaking to employers about work health safety plans. After you’ve done your due diligence, take a break and focus on the positives in your life. Discuss lighthearted enjoyable topics. Adjust your social plans rather than cancelling them. If the large event you were planning on attending is cancelled, try staying home and ordering take-out with a few close friends.

Avoid Self-Medication

It is common for people to increase alcohol intake and smoking when stressed. This trend has been seen during past pandemics. Monitor yourself to make sure you are not trying to self-medicate stress; instead, reach out to others for support and distraction, and engage in activities you usually enjoy and that help alleviate stress.


It is common to attempt to regain control by blaming others; some will scapegoat individuals or communities based on race, ethnicity, or country of origin. People are fearful in situations that do not have a simple answer. Finding a target for anger or blame is particularly unhelpful as it is usually based on false assumptions and unfairly castigates others. Attempting to assign a culprit creates additional fear, for yourself and those you know, and is an impediment to coping behaviorally and emotionally.

Seek professional help if needed

Consider talking to a therapist if you are having ongoing difficulty with sleep, concentration, anxiety, depressed mood, or preoccupying health worries that are interfering with your ability to work, engage with friends and family, or enjoy activities. Reach out for professional help if you are abusing alcohol or other substances. Alternatives to in-person therapy are available for those concerned about potential exposure. Council for Relationships offers online therapy where you can speak with someone from the comfort of your home. The therapist will listen to your concerns, help you gain perspective, manage anxiety, and weather this pandemic.


Dr. Jane Summers is the Director of the Women’s Psychological Health Services and a Staff Psychiatrist who sees clients at both Philadelphia locations, University City and Center City. To request an appointment with her, please contact her at jsummers@councilforrelationships.org or 215-382-6680 ext. 7070.