Are you fed up with COVID-19? You are not alone. You are not the only one either needing or wanting to develop a COPING Mindset. I am with you. I am working at monitoring my negative self talk and COVID-19 Fatigue. Some psychologists term it Pandemic Fatigue. Yet, we can do what we can do to boost ourselves into some rational and positive self talk.
In the meantime, I am fed up thinking about:
- doing the keep-6-feet apart and don’t hug dance with family and friends; an urge to step forward and then stepping backward.
- protecting my husband because he is immune compromised.
- loved ones unable to find employment.
- the requirements to access groceries: mask, disinfected hands, 6 feet distancing, and following the aisle lines and arrows
- some people disregarding the local protocol requirements while I am doing my best to comply.
- leaders who seemingly and indiscriminately give away taxpayers’ money and/or put their own egos ahead of the welfare of their people.
- many seniors suffering due to physical distancing.
- Being constrained, contained, and stuck at home.
- anti-maskers, racists, and conspiracy theory advocates, in some arenas, having louder and better funded voices than those who fight for science-based protocols, justice, and the truth.
- having no sound-minded leader or scientist, knowing when this will end.
Indeed, we see domestic abuse, divorces and children with emotional disorders increase. People are having outbursts in grocery stores and other public places, acting less rationally and with little emotional regulation.
We need to take charge of what we give our attention and how we our training our brains. We can start by asking ourselves three questions:
- “Does this thought positively serve me, my loved ones, and the world?”
- “What will be the consequence if I keep thinking this thought?”
- “Is it true and if not, what is the kind truth?
We need to manage our distressing thoughts so we can better relax, work, play, eat and digest, relate and connect, problem solve, and stay healthy.
Monitor Your Self Talk
The nineteenth century philosopher and psychologist, William James wrote,
The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can change the quality of their lives by changing the attitudes of their minds.”
If we want to get hold of our dysfunctional and spiraling thoughts, we need to catch them and transform them.
Step One: Develop Awareness and Self-Compassion
“We cannot help it if we have a thought. But we can choose if we keep thinking it over and over again.” Kelly Morgan
Accept that you have habitual thoughts. The progression goes from a situation triggering a repeated thought, which has become a belief. That alarming belief then fires a fright, flight or collapse response which will result in impaired problem solving.
Situation leads to ➢Unconscious Belief (engrained by repeated thought) leads to ➢Feeling leads to ➢Distress Reaction
Example: COVID-19 (situation) ➢”I am going to die” (belief) ➢Fear (feeling) ➢Distracted and unable to focus (distress reaction)
Unconsciously, the thought is given meaning and reinforced from the repeated thought pattern.
Redo: COVID-19 (situation) ➢“I will learn & keep safe” (belief) ➢ Confident (feeling)➢ Make informed decisions (thoughtful response)
It takes conscious work to engrain a new and healthy thought and result.
Step Two: Catch and Change Dysfunctional Thinking
Research in Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) has given us lists of dysfunctional or stinking thinking. Here we will explore seven of them and give alternative thinking that is more accurate and encouraging.
All-or-Nothing (Black or White) Thinking
“I will never wear a mask. To do so is giving up my right to freedom.”
This kind of thinking allows for no shades of grey or a rainbow of color. It views decisions and situations in extremes.
Improved thinking considers adaptability to options: “I will research and then decide when I wear a mask and why I choose to do so. I can also change my mind if I learn more.”
2. Always Being Right
“Did you wash your hands for 30 seconds? I don’t care that the poster reads 20 seconds. You should wash your hands for 30 seconds.”
Some people get stuck in believing their thinking is right and if others disagree, they are wrong. There is fear about being incorrect or making an error. They will go to great lengths to prove the other person’s thinking, information or position is wrong. Making an apology is unthinkable and they risk being labeled, an arrogant right fighter.
Improved thinking includes taking into consideration that we are all human, that we can learn from our mistakes, that there are often several correct answers or solutions and making an apology might help repair an important relationship. As Dr. Phil often asks, “Do you want to be right or happy?”
“I am curious. I noticed you quickly washed your hands. I thought to kill the virus we needed to wash our hands for 30 seconds. What is your understanding?”
- Focusing on the Negatives
“COVID-19 is going on and on. The news is full of violence, protests, rude language, unhappy people, sick people, and corrupt government. “
When we over focus on what is not going well and let our negative thoughts dominate, we can discourage ourselves and create depression.
Improved thinking considers the positives of a situation. After looking at my 10-point fed-up list above, I have translated three of them into positives of the COVID-19 situation:
- “Hidden issues of racism and discrimination have been brought to the forefront.”
- “Many of us have demonstrated our ability to care, learn, and adapt. For example, I now provide counselling and deliver workshops online.”
- “Many of us spend more time outside and have developed a new appreciation for our neighbors, our neighborhoods, parks and nature.”
See if you can find some other positive and alternative thoughts in my fed-up list. Ok?
“I am useless. I can’t help myself let alone anyone else. I am a failure at figuring out how to have a family gathering.”
When we judge ourselves or others with put down, derogatory terms rather than defining acceptable and unacceptable behavior we are participating in emotional abuse. My father repeatedly told me “Patricia, you are stupid.” I took that thought and carried it in my adult brain regardless of it being not truthful. These kinds of judgements on others or self can lead to depression, addiction, or other kinds of escape from the resultant self-image.
Improved thinking includes self-compassion, and acknowledgment of our emotions, and possibly strengths. “I feel sad that we can’t have big family gatherings. I am creative and will connect on zoom, social media and even some fun mailed messages.”
“COVID-19 is a cataclysm! It couldn’t be worse.”
The person who catastrophizes uses what if questions to imagine the absolute most horrible possibility of an event. Some say, “If you expect the worst, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.” But I do not recommend being in misery during we don’t know how long.
Improved thinking includes using proper definitions and descriptions. In some ways having words to accurately define our experience helps make it not only real but manageable, not catastrophic. Our brains calm when we can take a breath and accept what is. Here are some COVID-19 definitions to help.
- COVID-19 means a disease that includes cough, fever, and shortness of breath.
- Pandemic means an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents.
- Epidemic means an increase in the number of cases of a disease, above what is typically expected in a particular area.
- Outbreak means like an epidemic and usually refers to a more limited geographic area.
- Crisis means an unstable or crucial time or situation in which a decisive change is impending
- Droplets means tiny particles suspended in air by sneezing, coughing, or talking.
- Lockdown or Isolation means being, living, or going alone or without companions.
- Physical distancing means putting physical distance between yourself and other people. Note: replace ‘social distancing’ which means avoiding direct contact with people with ‘physical distancing.’
- Hand hygiene is a key strategy for slowing the spread for COVID-19—washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Self-monitoring means checking yourself for COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, cough, or difficulty breathing. Note: If you notice symptoms check in with your medical professional.
- Should Statements
“You should wear a mask, wash your hands, and stay home. Don’t you care about others?”
“You should stop reminding me to wear a mask. Don’t you care about others and our freedom to choose?”
You should, you have to, and you must is often the beginning of a declaration of a rigid and controlling rule. You are stating how a person (self or others) are expected to behave. These thoughts and statements often trigger feelings of anger, frustration and resentment.
Improved thinking includes considering what result you desire and asking for what you want or negotiating a best-case scenario.
“I feel unsafe because you are not wearing a mask. Will you put one on?” Or “ I do not want to wear a mask. You decide how close we get. Ok?”
“It’s all the fault of those people coming into our province that I feel scared.” Or “It’s all China’s fault we’re in this mess and why I feel scared of all Asians.?”
We live in a blame focused culture. We are blame owners or blame throwers trying to prove that someone is at fault. It is an attempt to grasp control. As humans when we are attacked, even with three words, “It’s your fault” we tend to defend. Defensiveness leads to conflict.
Too many people blame their emotions on others. “She made me mad!” No. Your emotional reaction was anger. You can control your emotions.
Improved thinking includes holding others responsible for their behaviors, naming the problem and seeking solutions, collaboratively when possible. Look at this response from Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw:
This is a new virus. It has jumped from an animal reservoir to humans. We do not yet know what animal that was. So, it is really natural that people are feeling afraid about something that’s new, and that’s why we’re wanting to make sure that we’re being transparent, sharing all the information we have. Because when people have more information about the things they can do to protect themselves, like hand-washing, like staying away from other people if they are feeling ill, protecting others or covering coughs and sneezes, it gives people a sense of control.”
If you are reading this post, you are breathing and can take charge of your thinking. You are best to relax before taking on your stinking thinking. The fright-flight response focuses only on immediate survival. We need to breathe deeply to activate our logical, pre-frontal cortex.
Then we can cement healthier and positive self talk. Consider choosing one of the dysfunctional thought patterns that tend to pull you down. Write down the new thought making it as truthful, uplifting and empowering as possible. Then take that thought into your practice of meditation, yoga, journaling, or having a good night’s sleep!
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Patricia Morgan MA CCC helps her readers, clients, and audiences lighten their load, brighten their outlook, and strengthen their resilience. To go from woe to WOW call 403.242.7796 or email a request.