The tough news around Covid-19 feels never-ending. A psychologist explains how to take back some control.
Just as we’re hearing about breakthrough Covid-19 infections in vaccinated people, the world seems to be opening up: Employees are back in the office, kids and college students have returned to in-person learning, and indoor gatherings like weddings and concerts are back on the calendar.
But with all these developments comes plenty of uncertainty about what’s actually safe. Should my kids really be in school? Should I be indoor dining even if I got the vaccine? What if I have Covid, but don’t show any symptoms?
That anxiety is understandable — lots of us are fretting about which activities we can safely partake in. So we asked Bea Harris, a clinical psychologist and Humana’s Director of Human Behavior, to give us six tips for soothing some of your worries.
Take control of what you can
Since the pandemic began, it’s been tough to maintain a sense of control. (Living through quarantines, mask mandates, travel bans, social distancing, and work-from-home requirements will do that to you.)
As humans, it’s part of our DNA to take control of our days — or at least feel in control of them, explains Harris. “Self-regulation, control over our lives, and control over our decision-making have an extraordinary influence on well-being,” says Harris.
The need to feel safe, and keep your family safe, is also fundamental to human nature. But a simple way to protect yourself is by getting vaccinated against Covid-19, and taking the appropriate booster shot when it’s recommended. Encouraging and educating unvaccinated friends and family on the importance of reducing the virus’ transmission rate can also make a positive difference.
Create routines that work for you
On edge about whether it’s safe to attend large gatherings, eat indoors, go to the office, or travel on public transportation again? One way to feel less anxious is to develop a routine — even if that’s just setting your alarm at the same every morning, taking a warm shower after a long day, or making sure your books are neatly lined up on your bookshelf. “When we get thrown, having a routine does matter. There’s something about habit that establishes a feeling or a sense of safety to yourself,” says Harris.
Having established habits in our everyday lives and environments gives us back some power. “When we set up rituals, we’re trying to help create the feeling that, ‘I’m managing my life and there’s a sense of order,’” says Harris.
Change your surroundings
If you’re looking for ways to feel less fretful, “your environment can help with that,” says Harris. Even something as simple as listening to calming music or working in a different room than your spouse or partner can help create physical and mental space for you both to thrive.
“When you live together and you don’t have a lot of space, problems can arise just because of that. Something about going to another room and finding space of your own can be transformational — and that’s better than leaving your marriage, right?” says Harris.
You don’t have to normalize stress around Covid-19
You might want to rethink using the term “new normal,” because our words do have power over our bodies. “The expression ‘new normal’ isn’t fantastic — who wants to live like this?” says Harris.
Born in 1938, Harris has lived through many moments in history that “had to be learned and worked through” she says. “And I’m not just talking about World War II or 9/11, but also marches and the feminist movement that are still going on. Many things are forever, in a sense, and a struggle, but that doesn’t have to wear you out.”
Be mindful of your internal dialogue
“If you keep saying you’re ‘stressed,’ you’re actually training your mind to be distressed,” says Harris. “Let’s stop talking about the negative and switch your wording. Focus on resilience — focus on a word that says you can deal with what you’re experiencing.”
Harris likens positive dialogue to the way sailing crews collaborate to steer the ship in the right direction. “Focus on what you can do because that’s what you want the mind to learn. It’s like with sailing: You don’t say, “Don’t do this!”, you tell them what to do.”
Take a break from the news
Heard of ‘Covid fatigue’? It’s that tiring feeling that you just want to move on and get past the pandemic — return to the way life was before. And it’s very real. The solution?
Harris says to turn off the news and be mindful of the conversations you’re having with your friends. “I understand the feeling of, ‘I’m tired of the pandemic and I don’t care anymore. I want to be unshackled.’ This nonstop talk about Covid — I’d say to stop listening and stop talking about it.”
Again, go back to what you can control: Take some space from the news and focus on what you can do in your everyday life to build more resilience and a stronger, more positive mindset.
“Hopefully, this is a river we have to go across, or a terrain that we have to cross, and figure out how to manage,” says Harris. “It may not be fast, but we have to believe that we’ll find our way through it.”