Health

A Metro Detroit Psychologist's Guide to Sanity in the COVID Crisis


April 01, 2020, 11:28 PM

The writer, a licensed clinical psychologist, has a practice in Berkley. She works with children, adolescents and adults and takes a holistic approach, working with all the aspects of one’s life. 


Cara Fenster, PsyD: "You are not alone."

By Dr. Cara Fenster 

Our reality has changed from the normal daily grind to learning how to live during a pandemic. The change has been abrupt and difficult, leaving no person unscathed.  

There is so much to process and figure out and the adjustments seem to multiply daily.

I’ve had to enact some coping methods to help my current patients, as well as myself, my family, my friends, my community. How we react to this crisis extends beyond ourselves. In this time of fear and uncertainty, we can be a catalyst for love and healing. Here are some suggestions on how to get through this time.

  • Take time to feel: In order to find a place of comfort, it’s important to start by identifying and acknowledging the uncomfortable emotions we are all facing.  I’ve talked to many different people with varying life circumstances but almost all have feelings of fear, pain, loss, sadness, loneliness and anger.  While difficult to feel, these emotions are real and important for us to acknowledge. We often try and brush past these emotions and distract ourselves from the discomfort they bring. However, if we are able to momentarily feel them, breathe through them, notice how they feel in our bodies, and sit in the discomfort, then we can create more emotional space for healing and peace. 

  • Find gratitude: It is difficult to have negative thoughts when we are feeling gratitude for the things in our lives. Thoughts of gratitude help our bodies and minds focus on the positive aspects and make it more difficult for the uncomfortable emotions to come through. Many are going through cycling of various "negative" emotions. Thoughts of gratitude help break up that cycle and allow for the "feel good" emotions to come through. So find something, however small, to feel grateful for. Extra time with family, a slower pace, less pressure, the sun, a chance to cook a meal, a glimpse at neighbors you didn’t know, etc. 

  • Go with the shift: We often resist things that take us out of equilibrium. It is a natural defense to help keep balance and order. But this is a shift that can be felt in many areas and trying to restore life back to "normal" will most likely result in distress. This is a chance to view your life from a different angle. To break up routine and shift into a behavior, thought pattern, feeling that previously seemed impossible. Look at your life and see it through a new lens of what is possible. Take this time to develop a new habit or hobby. Research shows it takes approximately 30-plus days to develop a new habit. By the time life resumes back to a "normal" flow, you will have developed a new strength. 

  • Try not to spend too much time with fear: There is so much to evoke fear right now, mainly information overload with data, opinions, statistics, etc., coming at us almost hourly. Take note of how much you are exposing yourself to and explore whether it is truly helpful. It is normal to want to feel connected and know what is going on but the information can put us into a constant state of fight or flight, which releases stress hormones into our system. It may be helpful to limit your exposure to information during certain times in the day. This will help reduce the number of times your system is put into a state of stress and your brain feels overloaded. If you are using social media as a source of connection with others, try connecting with a friend via phone or video chat rather than scrolling through Facebook and intermittently being exposed to more information and opinions. 

  • Connect with others: Everyone is going through this and can relate on some level. Connect and voice your fears, frustrations, funny moments etc. Relating to others and feeling validated in our feelings can help with the loneliness and isolation. Plan virtual happy hours, coffee dates or book clubs with your friends. You are not alone in this!

  • Activate your parasympathetic nervous system: Take time each day to do something that calms you down. The stress and anxiety during this time means our sympathetic nervous system (also known as ‘fight of flight’) is in overdrive. As such, it is incredibly important to activate our parasympathetic nervous system (also known as ‘rest and digest’) and give your body a chance to calm itself. Read, meditate, walk, call a friend, take a bath, take a breath of fresh air etc. Remind your body and mind what calm feels like. 

  • It’s okay to just be: This situation is the ultimate opportunity to practice mindfulness. Thinking too far into the future or the past can create an environment of fear and anxiety. It’s okay to stay in the present moment and "just be" during this period. Doing what feels good can be a wonderful way to practice mindfulness and self-acceptance whether it’s sleeping in, binge-watching Netflix, or reading a magazine instead of cleaning the house. Honor what you are feeling and know that it’s OK to pause and take a breath. 



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Potd_img_5632_557 Police in riot gear last night at the protest in downtown Detroit.

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