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COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS: Skills to Navigate Uncertain Times

May 15, 2020 08:55AM ● By Editor

By PHHS Community Support Provider Matthew Baxley - From Cook County MN - May 15, 2020


People throughout the county are experiencing emotional reactions to the changes caused by the COVID-19 response. 

There is stress over finances, health, childcare, social distancing, parenting, and the real fear over the loss of business and livelihood.   Everyone reacts to this stress and anxiety differently.  Some people are preparing to hunker down for a long period of time, while others are preparing to reopen businesses with new innovations and adaptations.   Facebook groups have sprung up to support one another.  Still others are giving away free food.  Our community is demonstrating the cohesion we need to navigate through these changes in a challenging time.

Within all of the proactive responses there is still a certain level of very understandable stress, anxiety and grief.  Many of us don’t have the same tools and resources to manage these feelings. There are, however, specific thought exercises and behaviors that can help you and the ones you love cope with all this uncertainty.  

Most important is to keep your worries in check. This will help you and those around you navigate this uncertain situation as easily as possible.  This includes watching out for catastrophic thinking. Assuming every cough is a sign you’ve been infected or reading news stories and then dwelling on worst-case scenarios are examples of catastrophic thinking. It is important to counter these thoughts with a sense of perspective. We do this by engaging in solution-focused thinking and balancing this with mindful acceptance of what we cannot control.  You may be thinking, “I can’t keep this up much longer.” I Instead try, “I only have to focus on this moment and getting through today.” 

For those moments when you do catch yourself feeling anxious or overwhelmed, step away and take a break.  Simple activities can make the most difference, i.e., taking a shower or going outside or into another room and taking a few deep and intentional breaths.  One technique that I use and teach others is a simple breathing technique called square breathing. Breath in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, and breathe out for eight seconds.  Then repeat. This type of breathing actually assists in calming the nervous system and can move your brain from a “fight or flight” response back into solution-focused problem solving. 

This next tip may be hard for folks right now, but another way to manage anxiety is to limit consumption of news. Staying informed is important, but it’s a good idea to limit consumption of news and social media, as these have the potential to feed your anxiety and the anxiety of those with whom you live. Turn the TV off and block or unfollow people who are prone to sharing panic-inducing posts.  If you still want to consume media, put on a feel-good movie, podcast or music instead. 

One of the best uses of technology is as a tool to stay in touch virtually.  This is one way we can keep our support network strong, be it through a video chat, phone call or text message to friends and family. These social experiences play an important role in regulating our mood and helping us stay grounded. If there are kids in your home, help them to use social media, Skype or FaceTime to stay connected to peers. Communication can help kids feel less alone and decrease the stress of being away from friends.

Making plans can be helpful, too, even if those plans are over a video call or from a safe distance at the park.  In the face of events that are scary and largely out of our control, it’s important to be proactive about what you can control. When things feel uncertain, making plans helps you visualize the near future. Could you plan a virtual play date for the kids? Is there some outdoor activity you could plan for yourself or your family? What are favorite foods you can cook during this time? If you are living with friends or family, make lists that everyone can add to, including kids. Seeing you problem-solve in response to this crisis can be instructive and reassuring for others. Even better, assign others a task that will help them feel that they are part of the plan and are making a valuable contribution to the family.

It’s more important now than ever that we find ways to stay calm, even if we are finding calm by using tools we have previously utilized.  So, keep breathing, talking and taking care of each other.  That is how we will move through this together. 


County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service


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