Acceptance and Coping with Stress During the COVID-19 Crisis

Hello, Michael Salas from Vantage Point Counseling and I am finally making a new video.

So, if you’ve ever tuned into this channel before, or you have watched any of my youtube videos before, you know that it’s been quite a while since I have made any videos. And I’ve been on
quite a hiatus. Just to give a brief update on where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to–I was working on a doctorate.

When I looked at the actual timeline of when I made a lot of the last video I made it was about three years ago, which lines up pretty well from when I started working on my doctorate and so I really just got busy with that worked on a dissertation. I think after that just needed a little bit of time to settle back in a little bit to just kind of regular life. I really wasn’t taking as much time to do as much stuff on social media as I had kind of [done] before. I started working on my doctorate. But [now] I[‘ve] finished that and I’m done and I’m glad that I did it I learned a lot. Now I’m back and ready to get back into doing some of the social media stuff and information videos that I had done before.

If you’ve ever watched this channel before or if you’ve read any of the articles on my blog you know that focus a lot on sexual health, sexuality, relationships and sexual compulsivity.  I’m also a trauma therapist, and so one of the big inspirations for me to get back on and and start making these videos again was the current crisis that we’re in. Most of us haven’t been through a crisis that’s quite like this. There are [and have been] pandemics and epidemics that we’ve been through. I’ve been through [pandemics] in my lifetime and I’ve seen some comparisons to this current coronavirus outbreak pandemic and HIV. I understand some of the comparisons that people are making and there’s also a lot of differences too.

This has been quite different [of a crisis] with how it’s been dealt and with how this particular
virus seems to spread. I also think what we’re facing with the 24-hour news cycle and how much exposure we have to different things including each other on social media is really impacting us in just a different way than anything has really ever impacted us before in previous pandemics.

Honestly, this isn’t going to become a coronavirus YouTube channel. I’m gonna make a few videos about this and then I’m also going to briefly mention it depending on where we’re at in the  the current journey that we’re kind of going on. But there are lots of issues that are in the background that I still think are very important, even in a crisis like this. So I’m
going to continue to be focusing on those [issues as well].

If there was only one word and one mental health thing that I would focus on if I had to choose when it comes to the corona virus, it would be stress. Right now, you can see it on peoples’ faces. You see it in what they’re writing. You can feel it even sometimes. It’s just palpable and that
stress is sometimes fairly low-level depending on how the person is coping with it.

Other times, it’s very elevated and it’s high and  some people are even panicking.

One of the big concerns that I have about stress and a lot of stuff that I’m seeing out there is [that] the the initial focus is to lower the stress and I understand the thinking behind that because when we’re experiencing something uncomfortable, we want to be able to improve on the symptom of that.

I am going to talk about a few strategies of things that you might be able to do that can kind of help with it. But the first thing that I really want to focus on because I think it’s so important is
normalizing stress at a time like this. It is okay to be stressed and the reason that I say that is [because there are] a lot of people will read these articles, they will see [and hear] peers talk about de-stressing on social media and they will feel like there’s something wrong with them. because they’re experiencing stress, which ironically increases the amount of stress that they’re feeling.

Few emotions go away when we focus on them and try to will them away. That’s just not something that we can really do very well. So instead of doing that, what I really encourage people to do with this is [also] something that I encourage in my work [with clients] all of the time. Anybody who works with me knows that I encourage people to accept the emotions that they’re having, to build up some tolerance to them, and then also get some support while they’re in them. Oddly, a lot of times that alone starts to decrease the intensity of the feeling. What I’m talking about normalizing stress though we are facing a lot of vulnerability right now and we’re feeling more vulnerable, we are going to be stressed. And so that’s okay.

Not to make things more scary than they are, but there is a threat that’s new out there. I think
we’re learning more every day and week by week we’re learning more, and just like any new virus or new illness that we don’t fully understand that sort of kicks up our fight-or-flight responses. We do feel like we need to run, we need to try to get away from it, and those things increase the general anxiety that we’re feeling about it. We also are facing some real life challenges; the economy is impacting us… as well as just the general concerns that [we’re facing].

We want our families and our friends to be safe, and so that’s a lot to be stressed about, and it’s okay to be stressed. I think the big concern that I have is that we have to practice social distancing (and obviously I think social distancing needs to be listened to). We I don’t want people taking this as something that says [it’s] okay to ignore social distancing and kind of go do your own thing. But that comes with a challenge in that it’s trickier to find support. We do have
the ability to connect online and stuff. It’s also challenging and it has some barriers. For some people it’s just not quite the same and I think that when people are able to just name it and accept it, and have someone else accept hat that’s how they’re feeling about it…

If they say to someone I’m feeling stressed about this, I’m feeling really anxious about this and the other person doesn’t try to tell them why they shouldn’t feel stressed [or] why they’re overreacting. A lot of the time, just being able to share that with somebody will help it go down.

In my practice a lot of times when I say something like that to people, I kind of get a look like “that’s it?” “That’s the thing that you’re telling me to do… is just accept it?”

I mean there are some things that you can do and let me get into a couple of those just to give you some ideas of some stuff that that you can do. In one of my most vulnerable moments, I remember reading a piece of advice and I think it’s really good advice. It’s [also] just really simple advice. A lot of times, we don’t think about it [the advice], but it’s [to] do more of what
you like to do  less of what you don’t like to do. Wow. That’s not that complicated and it’s something that we forget about and ignore. There’s no better time for that than right now and so sure we’re limited. There might be things that you like to do that are not in your home and yet there are things, this doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing kind of thing. You can find something
within the situation that you’re in that’s a little more fun–a little more pleasurable, a little bit more enjoyable. A [then]  do less of those things that (and even if it’s just a little bit less of those things that you enjoy less) and you’ll be surprised at how much that improves over time how you feel, and how that starts to impact the stress responses that you’re having in a positive way.

All or nothing thinking is a huge problem when it comes to trying to find a way to balance stress. What we tend to do is we tend to focus on:

  • “I either can completely do this or I can’t
    do it at all.”
  • “I can either make a change with the stress that I have or I can’t do it at all.”
  • “I’m either full of hope or I’m hopeless.”
  • “I have complete control in of my environment and what’s going on or I have no control and I’m helpless.”

What I really encourage you to try to do is work on finding the middle ground. This does not mean that you’re not going to have moments where it feels like worse. We’re kind of drawn to the extremes and so you’re going to find yourself in those extremes at times and that’s okay too.
I always remind people is that this is a practice and by practicing on stepping into the middle ground a little bit you can be a little more empowered here. You can have a little more control
here. Or you can feel a little more connected here. Any of those kinds of things can really shift the overall dynamic of how you’re coping with such a big thing like this.

I recommend that you are also kind to yourself. Up to this point we’ve had to deal with these major day-to-day changes (i.e. 250 people can be there, you can still watch your sporting events, you can do all this stuff, you can go eat out, you can go to the movies, and then you can’t do any of that and all those things are kind of on hold for now. Your jobs are all of a sudden threatened. You’re not sure if they’re behind the scenes talking about [laying you off]. Just everything has kind of changed all of a sudden and it’s okay to be overwhelmed about that at times.

One of the big things that we can really get caught up on is being critical on ourselves for not being what we identify a lot of times in our society as “strong.” Speaking of using all-or-nothing thinking: strength versus weakness is another one that we really need to focus on. It’s not about strength or weakness [when dealing with a traumatic event]. It’s about having the feelings that you have and and that’s an okay thing. I just really think it’s important to stress that. I don’t think we stress that enough.

Sometimes people ask me about meditation and I do think meditation is something that you can do, but I would do it cautiously. Because honestly sometimes [with] meditation there’s a real practice to it and there’s actually some research out there that is kind of showing that when people try to really drill into meditation and they don’t have a lot of experience with it, the symptoms of anxiety go up. So what I would encourage you to do if you’re going to do it is keep it very limited. There are really good apps out there, there’s the breathe app. There’s a few others like Calm–I think is another app. But I wouldn’t just focus on meditation.

I would also encourage you to find those things that you can include in a daily practice that might help you just naturally deactivate in a stressful situation. You can even ask yourself “what
can I focus on that would help me deactivate at this time right now?” You can experiment–it really needs to be an experiment and that’s something that’s really important. It could be a song
that you listen to that you have always found that could shift your mood. It could be something
in nature that you’re noticing. It’s just anything that really brings you into a present space where you start to notice what’s going on in that moment. Then you can check in to see how it changes.

You can identify “I’m not feeling quite the way that I was when I was at my most stressed,” whether it was 20 minutes ago or two days ago or whatever it is.

Sitting with that [feeling] a little bit can do a lot of things for you. First of all, it just gives you the
time to be at a place where things just generally kind of deactivate [on their own]. But it also gives you a resource of something that you’re able to use and potentially work with if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

If you’re feeling stressed in the future–again the goal isn’t going to always be…you’re not always going to be able to eliminate that feeling. But if you do have some of those resources available you can utilize them. It (the resources) may just take some of the tension off the top of it a little bit.

One of the other big challenges that we’re facing in this current situation that we’re in is something that we all tend contend with, which is identifying what we do have control of and what we don’t. That’s a really important delineation to make because what a lot of the time what we do is we start to fight. A lot of the time, what we start to do is try to fight to regain control over things that we didn’t really have a whole lot of control over to begin with. So we’ll do
things like will obsess. We’ll obsessively watch the news try to gather every detail that we can about the the thing that we’re facing.

Sometimes we’ll go into denial and we’ll try to reshape the reality around us to fit the narrative that we want it to actually have. Sometimes we’ll also try to control other people’s behavior and try to will them to do things in the way that we think that they should do them. These things are very human, we’re probably all guilty of them. I know I’ve been guilty of them in many difficult situations, including this one. So I really encourage you to identify when you’re fighting to try to gain control of things that you aren’t in control over. When you’re in that fight, when you’re in
that battle, you are likely to be increasing this stress and the anxiety that you’re feeling instead.

What I want you to do is turn your attention to what do you actually have control over. You can start looking at things that are based in your need for fun, connection, love, and belonging. Any of those things that we do have some control over and then you can use your creativity. I think
this is a perfect time to really be focusing on trying to find creative ways to connect.

You can also try new things and I think that this is a perfect opportunity opportunity to do
that as well. If you’re stressed about your work, it’s easy to get focused on whether or not the work is going to be there. If it’s going to be there in the same way and this is an opportunity to also be innovative. and try some things. Maybe you’re going to be the person at your at your job who’s going make the place pandemic proof. Or you’re going to be a resource for people there.

I’m not saying that that erases what you’re not in control of, because it doesn’t, but both of those
realities can exist. At the same time, the things that you aren’t in control of can be out there and exist and you can still be in control of certain things.

It’s quite possible that even though it’s not going to completely get rid of your stress. It may help to lower it well.

That’s it for today. I know that’s a lot

I want everyone to stay safe. Look, if you’re in a space where you’re really kind of trying to deploy some of the things that we’re talking about here and can’t really fully wrap your mind around it, or you’re not sure what to do with it. The good news is that there are a lot of
telehealth therapists out there. We’re doing some telehealth and so I want you to think about that too while the social distancing is there. That’s not going to be there forever and so if you’re worried that you’re always going to be required to do telehealth, that’s not true.

I mean we’re going to be back in a space where we’re able to meet one-on-one with people again, but we just want to be safe and take care of each other in the mean time. So stay safe, take
care of each other, be kind, and I’ll see you soon.

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