By Dr. Irma Campos, Licensed Psychologist
During times of widespread uncertainty and distress, difficult emotions and underlying concerns we struggle with are likely to emerge. Remember that seeking counseling is an effective way to manage the current distress, and as a psychologist in Tampa, Florida I am here to help. I offer evidence-based counseling for children, teens, and adults in Tampa, Florida.
In this post, I will review simple actions you can take to prioritize your mental health at this time regardless of your situation or context. It is expected that you will become overwhelmed by genuine concern, media sources, and information transmitted from family and friends regarding the public health crisis we face as a nation and world. Distress can be manifested cognitively (in our thoughts), affectively (through our emotions), and physiologically (through our body and bodily systems). The forms and intensities of these manifestations can vary from person to person. For example, for those who may struggle with Anxiety Disorders, the current outbreak is likely to cause worry and fear about what the future holds regarding health, community-related, and economic outcomes. For those facing Depressive Disorders, a pessimistic outlook, isolation, guilt, or self-doubt are likely to surface. Now more than ever it is imperative to buffer your distress. In doing so, you will prevent physiological stress processes from negatively impacting your health. This is a call to action to engage in self-care as a priority because mental health is ultimately a facet of general health.
1. Know your maladaptive tendencies.
As noted, we all have tendencies to react in specific ways in response to stress. Some tendencies are maladaptive meaning they harm our long-term well-being and functionality. Maladaptive tendencies can be attributed to an interaction of biological, sociocultural, genetic, neuropsychological, psychological, and personality factors. Maladaptive tendencies prevent us from truly facing our underlying emotions and thoughts, and they do not ‘work’ in the long-term.
I recommend making a commitment to recognize when you start engaging in your known maladaptive tendencies. If you know you tend to react to stress by experiencing obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, for example, face this reality. Through self-awareness and self-compassion, you can challenge these tendencies. In order to challenge these tendencies, for example, you may say to yourself: “I am scared about the future, and I am starting to obsess about how to prevent bad things from happening. It is okay to feel scared, but I do not have to obsess or act on my compulsive urges.”
2. Identify three go-to strategies in the moment to enhance your well-being.
Instead of engaging in your maladaptive tendencies, identify three strategies you can readily use when you notice the maladaptive tendencies emerge. Adaptive coping strategies allow you to engage with or respond to your emotions (i.e., feelings like sadness, fear) and thoughts (i.e., statements you make about yourself, others, the future) in a productive manner. For example, if your maladaptive tendency is to ruminate about what the future holds, alternatively consider bringing a state of genuine mindfulness toward your instinctual emotion. Mindfulness is often misunderstood or incorrectly defined to mean relaxing or quieting the mind. In reality, the spiritual practice of mindfulness ultimately meant and means awareness without judgment of this moment’s experience in order to reach a higher level of consciousness. For more on mindfulness, including mindfulness meditations, please see Dr. Tara Brach’s informative website: https://www.tarabrach.com/guided-meditations/
Other go-to adaptive coping strategies include connecting to your five senses (i.e., finding items to focus on that you can touch, smell, hear, see, and feel); expressing your instinctual emotions with vulnerability and truth to a trusted individual; and connecting with a greater aspect of your social and personal identities such as through activism (e.g., remote community organizing to help underserved individuals in this time of need).
3. Ask what you need from others.
During times of distress, it is extremely beneficial to communicate to others what we need from them. For example, I recommend communicating your triggers of maladaptive tendencies to your partner, friends, and family. For me, receiving too much information is a trigger, and therefore, I have benefited from communicating to loved ones that I would prefer not to receive additional information regarding the crisis at this time.
Other needs may include an increased desire to express fears or concerns or to spend quality time that involves meaningful conversations. Regardless of what the need may be, it is necessary to communicate it in order for others to hopefully and reasonably meet those expectations.
Interface Consulting and Psychological Services is here to help during this time of need. We are offering Telehealth (therapy and testing and leadership development consulting) services across the state of Florida. With recommended and necessary precautions, we are offering psychoeducational testing and psychological testing in person as well. Feel free to reach us via phone or our site, and we will be happy to be in touch ASAP to provide support to you or a loved one.