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Zoom-In and Zoom-Out: Choices on the COVID Roller Coaster

July 13, 2020

People speak of the “emotional roller coaster” which now seems to mean “the world’s turned upside down.” As a therapist, I validate that nothing seems the same, and many things are not. The list stretches long: medical conditions, food insecurity, financial disasters, serious illness, death, and feelings of loss and grief. How does one cope?

First, we are all different, so something that works for one person may seem awful to another. Here, I share a strategy that works for me. It helps me feel in control some of the time, and more peaceful when I know I’m not.

I got a clue one day as I looked out over my workspace (formerly the dining room table) and saw a mess. This was one thing I could do something about, perhaps in-between Zoom sessions and meetings. It helped: the choice to zoom-in on something I could control. As I heard the news, pulling my attention to the chaotic world and climbing numbers, my feelings of anxiety, and a bit of panic, arose. Will this pandemic ever come under control? Will the virus breach my home and slide in under my front door? Those moments of zooming-out were not reassuring.

As days march on, I’ve felt alternately lucky and hopeful, or worried and shocked. Late at night, true sadness and grief creep in. Trying to survive several days of a cold brought sheer terror and the indelible photos of dying people whose loved ones couldn’t be there for them. Would that be me? (Luckily it was just a cold).

Eventually, I noticed that close attention to what was in front of me helped. Focusing on conducting a good therapy session, making a call, or cleaning off the kitchen counters calmed me and made life meaningful. It prepared me to listen to the news or read the paper, staying informed, and then trying to move on.

So what does zooming-in have to do with coping? The word zoom used to evoke images of cars whizzing by or kids running wild; now it allows me to remain present while performing my rewarding work because I have established this strategy. Choosing to zoom-in to focus on what I can control and to zoom-out to check in again with the world gives me the freedom to be anywhere I need to be! I can decide what to focus on and when. Either zooming-in (e.g., on work, or weeding my garden) or zooming-out (to find both good and bad news) both work for me.

Zooming-in for me looks like:

  • Taking two minutes to make the bed, it looks neat and inviting. (Mom, bless her, taught me this.)
  • Wearing a bright color to keep things lively, it perks me up and may help someone else.
  • Remembering my husband did the dishes; I can do the next batch.
  • Looking outside when I need perspective, this reminds me to breathe and schedule a walk.
  • Eating a piece of dark chocolate after lunch, it won’t keep me awake at night, and after all it’s good for me!
  • Remembering I am lucky I can go to the freezer to thaw something for dinner.

Zooming-out for me looks like:

  • I am worried about my relatives, but I can call or text them. I keep that in mind.
  • I am annoyed with the weather. Remember it will change. Time to zoom back in.
  • The world is in a serious mess. I will apply for a mail-in ballot in case I need one.
  • The homeless have none of what I have. Remember to donate to the food bank.
  • Many are alone or feel alone and I cannot visit, but I can reach out to them via text or phone.
  • The world is still in a mess. Human beings are smart and resilient. Most of us will get through this, although sadly many will not.

I hope that choosing where to zoom-in or out at any given moment will help you feel less panicked and more in control. Perhaps your zoom-in is knitting a blanket or starting to clean the attic. Your zoom-out might lead you to share a hilarious joke with your friends, for relief. It’s the little choices that, I think, can help us create our own peace.


Dr. Michele Marsh works at our Center City office; she currently sees clients via online therapy anywhere in PA & NJ. To set up an appointment, you can reach her at 215-382-6680 ext. 7027 or mmarsh@councilforrelationships.org.