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Experts Share Strategies to Manage our Emotions
Lessons from Part One of CATCH/Compass Webinar Series

As the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic floods us with emotions, experts from Compass Health Center say we can best cope by naming our emotions, learning to navigate them, and understanding when to ask for help.  They shared their insight during the first session of a 2-part webinar: Managing the Flood of Emotions Brought on by a Pandemic , presented Wednesday, April 15th by CATCH and Compass.
Naming Our Emotions
Tracie Pape
Some of the emotions we may experience include anxiety, sadness, grief, fear, and worry.   Tracie Pape, LCSW, Compass Trauma Program Therapist , introduced the emotion wheel which can help us finds words to describe our feelings.  (Click here to view the emotion wheel.)
She noted the intense emotion of grief is extremely common in the midst of the massive changes in our lives, and in many cases, it’s the result of ambiguous losses.  Job security may be unknown, social connections from the sidelines on the soccer field have disappeared, and health risks are quite real.  Some tend to dismiss these losses, but they are real, and it’s important to name them.
Pape reviewed the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle which outlines the five stages of grief and helps us frame and identify what we may be feeling.

  • Denial: response to immediate change when loss takes place and can lead to avoidance, confusion, shock, fear, elation
  • Anger: causes one to search for blame and can trigger frustration, irritation, anxiety
  • Bargaining: prompts a struggle to find meaning, reaching out to others, and telling one’s story; can cause internal distress
  • Depression: creates feelings of overwhelmed, helplessness, hostility, flight
  • Acceptance: allows individuals to explore options, put a new plan in place, and move on

“Grief comes in waves,” Pape said, noting that it can be unpredictable and confusing.  She added that it is possible to have two opposing thoughts and encouraged us to accept the dichotomy.  For example: “I can feel grateful and disappointed about things being cancelled.” “We can enjoy extra time with loved ones and still feel overwhelmed by their presence.”

Above all, she stated self-compassion is key in this moment of suffering.  “Are you talking to yourself the way you would talk to a loved one?” she asked.  It may be helpful to remind yourself of the common humanity we are experiencing: this pandemic is happing to all of us, not just you alone.  Remember mindfulness.  Let go of judgement and accept thoughts and feelings as they are.  ( Learn more about self-compassion with Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field.)
Navigating Intense Emotions
Natalie Gela
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)  by Dr. Russ Harris, a world-renowned author and therapist, provides a framework for coping with our evolving list of emotions by teaching us to accept what is out of our control and committing to actions that improve and enrich our lives.   Natalie Gela, PhD, Associate Director of the Trauma Program at Compass , walked us through Dr. Harris’ practical steps designed specifically for our new reality.

F.A.C.E. C.O.V.I.D.

F ocus on what’s in your control:  You can’t control if others are following the rules of social distancing or the amount of toilet paper at the store, but you can control how much news you watch and following CDC recommendations.
A cknowledge your thoughts and feelings:  Name your emotions and accept that they are real.
C ome back into your body:  Connecting with your physical body can help you feel more grounded.  For example, press your fingers together or notice your feet on the floor.
E ngage in what are doing:  Refocus on your present state, and “drop anchor” to sense your environment.

C ommitted Action:  Ask yourself: What can I do now that is truly important to me?
O pening up:  Make room for difficult feelings and show kindness to yourself.
V alues:  Your committed action should be guided by your values.  Expect that there will be obstacles but live according to your core beliefs.
I dentify resources:  Seek resources for what you need.  A phone call with a friend?  Support from a mental health professional?  Grocery delivery?
D isinfect and distance:  Stay open emotionally, but recognize that we need to distance physically, and of course, wash your hands.
When to Ask for Help
Alex Timchak
Our current crisis is truly unprecedented.   Dr. Alex Timchak, Compass Medical Director and Child, Adolescent & Adult Psychiatrist , explained that he wondered whether we are all experiencing an adjustment disorder which comes when distress is out of proportion to the trigger.  It turns out, our reaction is just right.  We have never had to deal with something of the scope and scale of this pandemic.  As a result, we may be experiencing disrupted sleep patterns, stomachaches, nausea, panic attacks, loss of appetite, increased irritability, or desire to isolate.

What are the signs you should reach out for help:

  • Increase in acuity of symptoms
  • Increase in interpersonal conflicts
  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol
  • Stress exceeds ability to cope
  • Want extra support to get through a difficult time

People with pre-existing mental health issues may see an increase in symptoms.  For example, an individual with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) may be more agitated by the fear of germs we are all experiencing.  Others may struggle with the decision to seek medical care knowing going to a doctor’s office can increase exposure.  Dr. Timchak suggests weighing the risks and benefits of your options.  

Those without pre-existing conditions may not have developed the coping skills to deal with these new emotions and may feel discouraged by stigma around mental health.  He assured us that the conversation is changing.  More people are developing an awareness of the mental health issues we all face and the importance of caring for ourselves and our loved ones.

Available Resources

Many organizations offer support groups, individual therapy, crisis hotlines and other information to support mental health and emotional wellness.
What about our children?

Several participants in the webinar asked questions about helping our children cope with this crisis:

  • How do we find the balance between reassuring our children and giving them enough information to make sure they are taking this quarantine seriously?  

  • How do we help our children manage the absolute unpredictability of our current situation? 

We will answer these questions and more next week during the second part of this webinar series. Register now and join us for another informative evening.
Managing the Flood of Emotions 
Brought on by a Pandemic
A Two-Part Webinar for the Community
Part 2: Supporting Our Children’s Ongoing Needs
Wednesday, April 22, 7:30pm-8:30pm
If you have specific questions or topics you’d like us to address, send them to catchiscommunity@gmail.com .
Speakers provided by Compass Health Center
Roz Lessem, LCPC
Family Therapist & Therapeutic Placement Consultant

Alex Timchak
Dr. Alex Timchak
Child, Adolescent & Adult Psychiatrist
Margaret Lewis
Director of Adolescent Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)

CATCH is dedicated to making a difference in our community.
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