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Coping with the Coronavirus Quarantine: Part II: Coping Strategies

It has been over a month since I wrote my first article “Coping with the Coronavirus Quarantine: Part I Denial''.  It was well received. Many readers appreciated knowing about Festinger’s Cognitive Dissonance Theory and were able to understand the defense mechanism of denial. I was hopeful that people would recognize their own denial and be more proactive in protecting themselves and their loved ones. Shortly after Part I was written, I noticed that  more people were in fact practicing social distancing. There were far less people going outside their home.  I also noticed that when people went outside, more were wearing disposable gloves and masks. Also, many seemed to be honoring the six foot social distancing rule.  Compliance with the quarantine seemed positive. 

However, within the last month, people’s compliance with quarantine has become lax. Hordes of people were reported flocking to the beaches in South Orange County, which forced the governor to close them. Furthermore, some residents are taking to the street protesting against the quarantine.  Some states despite the warnings of science and medical experts are lifting  the quarantine prematurely.  I have also  noticed noncompliance in  both grocery stores and restaurants, seeing some establishments whose workers are without gloves and masks. Recently, I’ve learned of nonessential businesses breaking the law by conducting business as usual. There have been reports of restaurants seating and serving customers and hair salons conducting business as usual.

Although it is understandable that people want to get back to work, be with their friends, go to movies, restaurants and gyms, I worry about their safety and the spread of Coronavirus in our nation. What is most frightening is that the United States leads the world in the number of Coronavirus Cases and deaths.  As of May 4, 2020, there have been 3,582,464 Coronavirus Cases worldwide. In the United States there are 1,188,555 cases which account for over one third of the reported cases in the world. There have been 248,561 Coronavirus deaths worldwide. The USA has had  68,602 deaths which accounts for over 27% of the total world deaths. Unfortunately these numbers are increasing and although we are hopeful about finding a vaccine cure, it hasn’t happened yet. I continue to hear denial from patients and friends. Here are the most common ones:

These numbers aren’t accurate. They are inflated. Other countries like China have under-reported and we are misdiagnosing other illnesses and causes of death as Coronavirus.

My rebuttal: 

  1. Yes it is likely that some countries have under reported. Perhaps because of political motivation (not wanting to look vulnerable in the eyes of the world or not wanting to be blamed for spreading the virus) 
  2. or perhaps because they don’t have the technology or resources to get accurate reporting. 
  3. Being that only a miniscule percentage of the population has been tested, and that Coronavirus carriers may be asymptomatic, it is more likely that the number of cases in the USA is significantly higher not lower than what is being reported.


More people die each year of the flu. They are making a big deal over nothing.

My rebuttal:

  1. Statistics show that this allegation is not true. There are significantly more Covid19 deaths than flu and pneumonia. 
  2. This is a “big deal” and dangerous, especially because the number of deaths and cases  keep increasing 
  3. This is also dangerous because we have not yet found a cure or vaccination to prevent this disease. Scientists have speculated that it could take one and a half to two years before that happens.

   

We need to live our life and  have fun. We need to pay our bills. People will become so depressed that they will kill themselves and it will be worse than Covid19.

      My rebuttal:

  1. We need to be aware of the real consequences for our behavior. Is it worth the risk of dying  to have fun? This appears irrational and reckless.
  2. If we become infected and die, the issue of earning a living will be irrelevant.
  3. Yes, it is likely that some people will become depressed and commit suicide.  But the number of suicides will be insignificant compared to the death toll if the virus spreads. Furthermore, depression is treatable and currently there is no cure for Covid19 yet.

      

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the popular conspiracy theories that are circulating. The most common one is:”We aren’t really in any danger, It's just “fake news”motivated by China or North Korea, Iran, or the liberals.

       My Rebuttal:

  1. Although the conspiracy theories are possible, they statistically aren’t likely to be true. This form of defense allows us to deny uncomfortable emotions such as fear and  helplessness. 
  2. Furthermore we may feel self righteously empowered by having someone to blame. People who have difficulty experiencing “vulnerable” emotions such as fear and helplessness often feel more secure and confident when they experience “empowering” emotions such as anger.


The hardships that we American’s are facing with the Coronavirus are huge. Not since World War II has there been a global crisis of this magnitude. Financial losses include massive unemployment, and businesses being closed. Many Americans have incurred large financial losses because of recent losses in the stock market. Many Americans will have difficulty paying their mortgage and risk losing their homes.  Many are likely to file bankruptcy. Millions of Americans have already filed unemployment.

In addition to the financial hardships, our physical well being is now in jeopardy. More Americans are being infected with the Coronavirus. Some have died, lost friends, coworkers, and loved ones. We are being told that we are likely to see a significant increase in infections and deaths before it  is over. We are now being told that it is likely to get much  worse before it gets better.

Because it is no longer safe for students to be together in a classroom, all students from elementary school to college postgraduates are having to learn online at home.

Many schools will be ending their semesters early, and graduations for June of 2020 will be in question. Furthermore, parents that are now unemployed or working from home have the added stress of managing their children’s compliance in the “virtual” classroom. This is especially challenging for parents who have children with disabilities. such as oppositional defiant disorder, autism, attention deficit disorder, learning disabilities, thought and mood disorders.

As a clinical psychologist, during the Coronavirus Quarantine, I have been fortunate enough to be able to continue working.  Being Quarantine Compliant, sessions are now offered remotely through video and phone.   Remote  sessions have been quite effective and most of my patients’ treatment hasn’t been disrupted. Even new patients are responding well to remote sessions. Encouraged, I’m hoping that my readers will benefit from the advice offered in this article: Coping with the Coronavirus Quarantine: Part II: Coping Strategies. 

The coping strategies are as follows:

1. Don’t isolate! As a species, we are social animals. We really do need to stay connected with others. Fortunately through social media,  internet, texting, phone and video we are more able to stay in contact with people who are important to us.  I imagine that the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918  was not only more deadly (infecting 500 million and killing between 50 and 100 million people), but way more isolating. There was no internet, no video chatting, in-fact most people didn’t even have telephones.  Fortunately in 2020 we are able to stay connected remotely via computers and phones. I’m sure that there are many more people now using video networking products such as Zoom and FaceTime.  I have heard of churches, 12 step programs, therapy and support groups staying intact through using videoconferencing. In addition schools are conducting classes and employers are conducting staff meetings online. Since the quarantine,  I have participated in several Zoom  meetings, including my Psychologist’s Men’s group, Quarantine Karaoke, and “game night” with my family online. I encourage people to talk to loved ones frequently, especially those who live by themselves. 


2. Develop a “Gratuity list”.  Research has shown that depressed patients dwell on their losses and neglect noticing the positive aspects of their life. By focusing on what is “good” with our life rather than what is “wrong” will have a positive affect on our mood. This concept  has become common in both cognitive behavioral therapy, positive psychology, and twelve step programs. Furthermore, this philosophy is rooted in many religious and spiritual practices.  Do remember that “Practice makes perfect”. Try to make the list daily. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work immediately. By doing this exercise consistently, you can positively change the way we see and experience life. Even your brain chemistry will change. An example of a gratuity list would look like the following:

  1. I am grateful for not having Coronavirus.
  2. I am grateful for having good health.
  3. I am grateful for having a safe  place to live.
  4. I am grateful for being able to work.
  5. I am grateful for having friends and loved ones.
  6. I am grateful that the weather is nice.
  7. I am grateful that that we live in a world where it is likely that we will survive the Pandemic.


3. Get support! Being quarantined in a pandemic is both frightening and depressing. Many of us are worried about our career and future employment. We may be worried about getting the Coronavirus or surviving the Coronavirus if we have it. We may be worried about loved ones, especially ones who don’t live with us.  Relatives and friends  who are in nursing homes are at the highest risk. Currently they aren’t allowed to have visitors.  If you have a loved one who lives in a nursing home,and see them regularly, it is likely that you will be worried about their wellbeing and missing seeing them. Having our children at home 24/7 can be a blessing and a curse. 

Connecting emotionally with people in your life who are nurturing and supportive. Hopefully you will recognize the necessity of reaching out to those you love and trust and share your grief and fears. An experiment in social psychology showed that misery loves company. In other words, we gain comfort by sharing our thoughts and feelings with those who are going through the same stress. If you don’t have a good support system (ie friends, loved ones, coworkers)try to  be proactive and develop one. Perhaps you could reach out to a friend, family, a neighbor, or a coworker.  Many 12 step meetings, therapy and support groups continue to meet online. Furthermore many psychologists and other therapists continue to work remotely. Our expertise during a time of crisis can be extremely beneficial and in some cases life saving. Consider seeing a psychologist or counselor. Many of my patients who would be struggling with the “lockdown” are coping significantly better as a result of weekly and biweekly sessions. Currently, I am offering free consultations for new patients and free “well check” appointments for returning patients.


4. Be an opportunist. There is an old Chinese saying that says: “With each crisis there is an opportunity.” I’ve been intrigued in watching many of my patients create opportunities for themselves. Some of the examples of these opportunities include

Growing beautiful gardens, remodeling the house, organizing the house,deep cleaning the house, getting caught up on TV shows and movies, have more romance with their partner,having more closeness with their family, getting caught up on sleep, and developing effective fitness routines. 


5. Manage your stress by engaging in the following activities: exercise, hot baths, walks, gardening, yoga, prayer and meditation.  Many people are using video programs such as Zoom and FaceTime to connect with loved ones, play online games, and even have virtual  parties. 


6. Be careful not to engage in unhealthy habits. Over indulgence in food, drugs and alcohol are common damaging and unhealthy ways to deal with stress. I’ve also noticed that many have developed “news addictions”. Although it is good to be informed, watching the news 24/7  can have a bad effect on our mood leaving us angry, depressed and anxious. If you are noticing that your are frequently in a bad mood after watching the news, try to reduce your news consumption. Some of my patients are going on news diets and limiting themselves to an hour a day.


7. Get professional help! Getting professional help from a competent psychologist or counselor can be invaluable, especially during times like this.


Dr Steve Rockman is a  Clinical Psychologist with over 40 years of experience. Although he himself is practicing “social distancing” by not seeing patience in his office. He is available for FaceTime and phone sessions. Furthermore, he is offering a free 25 minute “wellness” check up for previous patients and a free 25 minute session for new patients. For an appointment contact Dalia (phone or text) at (657)223-3442  or email at [email protected]







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