7 Steps to Cope with COVID19 Stress

As I was looking for reliable online information and resources to assist my patients, I found many videos and articles discussing strategies to cope with COVID19. Some were good and helpful, and some were not. Unfortunately, there were too many, and some were not well organized. As an individual looking for practical and reliable information, I felt overwhelmed. 

Talking with friends and colleagues, I began to sort out my plan to simplify and organize this information. This is how this critical list of 7 steps came to light. It is a framework that will help you identify practical strategies to confront stressful situations. It also provides concrete useful information from evidence-based therapies that clinicians use in the consultation room. I hope that this framework is helpful to you and your loved ones. Also, check out the YouTube videos if you prefer video content rather than text.

Step 1: Identify your stressors

How are you going to cope with something if you don’t know what you are coping with? First, you have to identify what is making you stressed and anxious. You may be thinking—”this is silly, of course the stressor is COVID19.” You are right, the stressor is COVID19, but specifically knowing what about COVID19 is stressing you out is the first step  that will lead you to develop your coping plan. Even just naming your stressor can be very empowering and organizing! 

Step 2: Identify your responses

Knowing how you and your loved ones react to stress can be incredibly helpful, particularly during this difficult time.  It will help you realize that 1. You’re not the only one experiencing changes in how you are feeling, and you are not alone in regards to the way that you feel, 2. Everyone responds differently to stress, 3. If you understand your reactions, you can better listen to what they are trying to tell you and  you will be able to work on your reactions. 4. Knowing that you and others may be acting differently because of stress can help you to be compassionate with yourself and others. For example, some people get really angry during stressful times. That doesn’t mean it is ok to be disrespectful to others during this time. It just means you now have some tools to figure out why you or others may be behaving in this way, and how to work on those reactions. Naming your responses and those of others can give you a sense of control!

Step 3: Assess how stress is affecting you

How do you know what is the type of help that you need? You need to know how much a given stressor is affecting you. It starts by understanding that stress can affect your ability to cope. If stress begins to affect your ability to cope and your ability to function (e.g. taking care of yourselves and others), you need to pay attention to those changes. Of course, your productivity and your ability to function is not going to be 100% during the pandemic. So, applying this strategy is not intended to make you feel bad about the things that you are not doing, or the work that you are not completing. This step is to help you figure out where you are at and where you would like to be with time and support. Knowing where you are at and how your stress is affecting you will give you a sense of direction and motivation to work with your stress.

Step 4: Assess your strategies to manage stress

You already have strategies that you use to cope with everyday stress. However, very stressful situations can make you feel like you lack strategies, or that you cannot cope. Sometimes you may feel like you should use all those strategies that people post on social media and this may make you feel overwhelmed. Remember that you have more skills than you think! In this step, I will guide you through questions that can help you identify the strategies that you already use including the helpful and not so helpful ones.  I have also organized and categorized strategies. This will help you to easily identify which are strategies that you are already using. Identifying the strategies that you have is very empowering—You’ve got tools to work with! 

Step 5: Assess your stress response trajectory- Your Assessment

Now, what to you do with all this information? Where do you go next? Step 5 is about summarizing your findings from the previous steps. Your stressors are connected to your feelings, thoughts, and actions. So now it’s the time to think about how your stressors and stress responses are connected. Then you will find out whether your stress is improving, worsening, or staying the same with time, and after using your coping strategies. Step 5 will help you figure out what you want to do next

Step 6: Create your plan of action

Having a clear plan of how you would like to address your concerns and worries is key to gaining a sense of control and agency. Step 6 is about creating a plan that is individualized to you. There are some things you can control and some others you can’t. For the things that you can do something about—your plan will be to implement what you can do to mitigate the problem. For example, handwashing and staying at home to prevent the virus from spreading. Sometimes, the situation you are stressed out about is not completely under your control. However,  you CAN control and change the ways in which you react to that particular situation. Reflect on what strategies you will use to improve your mental health during this difficult time. Having a coping plan is really important, and by following these steps you will have a wealth of personal information to inform your action plan that will empower you to cope with COVID19 stressors. 

Step 7: Reassess your plan and response

If you don’t check-in with yourself  to see if your plan is working, it will be difficult to know if you are improving and if you need to adjust your plan. This step is an important reminder to often check-in with yourself. During these check-ins, you should assess your particular life situation, feelings, decisions, and behaviors so that you can decide how to proceed. Taking time to assess your progress is key to improve on what is not working, and cherish what you have accomplished.

Good luck with following the 7 steps to cope with COVID19. Remember you’re not alone. Some steps may be harder than others for you to follow or implement, and that’s ok! Just give them a try and see how they work for you. I will post separate blogs with specific questions to guide you through each step. You will also be able to find the steps and questions on my YouTube channel.  

Share how the steps are working for you in the comments below.

Until next time, 

Amalia