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Staying Psychologically Healthy during the Coronavirus

By Dr. Steven Huprich, PhD, Senior Warden

Months ago when I agreed to write this column, I never dreamed we would be in the situation we are now.  Recently, CCC hosted a webinar on the Psychology of Pandemics (you may watch it here), which is an excellent resource for how to stay psychologically healthy during this difficult time.  I was fortunate to be one of the discussants during this broadcast.  Below, I highlight some points that were made there.  Hopefully, one or more of these will be helpful to you now:

  1. When people are under considerable anxiety, they regress. It should not come as a surprise that we will not be our best selves under these times. This means we should be gentle and kind with ourselves and with each other.  As we come to know this, and as we seek support from others, we will begin to tolerate the uncertainty of these times better.
  2. People want to feel agentic, and we are not feeling that way so much these days. Our sense of control, predictability, and efficacy are now challenged in ways we did not anticipate.  We cannot even trust that a simple trip to the grocery store will be free of risk from infection.  However, we do have control over many things, and that creativity can foster our sense of agency, such as a walk outside or in the park, a drive to a city we have not been to, or a meeting with friends outside (separated by at least six feet).
  3. People want to feel connected, and the limits to this are being tested like never before. We are fundamentally motivated to be in relationships with each other.   This is built into our neurobiological make-up from infancy on.  Despite these limits, we can connect—phone calls, emails, and virtual meetings (such as FaceTime or Zoom).  It might seem harder to do these things now but connecting with others is essential.  We are fortunate that Father Chris is spearheading an effort to help us stay connected at this time.
  4. Personality traits and behavior patterns will become stronger during this time of stress. It should come as no surprise that under stress, our personality and behavior patterns rise to the surface.  Those who clean, do so with more intensity.  Those who want to control uncertainty may schedule things or review their finances with more scrutiny than ever.  And those who drink alcohol to relieve stress will do so more frequently.  Pay attention, keep watch, and know that grace abounds.
  5. This time will end. This is good news for us all, but it also brings many people much fear. That fear comes from the unknown extent to which we will be damaged financially and economically. And for some, the fear is whether their loved ones will be present after suffering the COVID-19 virus.  That said, it is critical to remain focused in the present.  Social support, meditation, prayer, exercise, music, art, and other beauty may be found here and now. And if you find peace now, you are likely to find it in the future.

Dr. Steven Huprich has authored more than 100 peer-reviewed publications and author or editor of six professional texts. He is Immediate Past President of the International Society for the Study of Personality Disorders, and he is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and of The Society for Personality Assessment. In addition to his research and academic work, he has 21 years of clinical practice.