Coping strategies for COVID-19 stress

Lisa Merlo, Ph.D., M.P.E, discusses the importance of mental well-being during the pandemic

By: Emily Mavrakis
Lisa Merlo Greene, Ph.D. Lisa Merlo, Ph.D.
  1. Feeling angry toward loved ones, patients and strangers who aren’t taking COVID-19 seriously or getting vaccinated is a normal human response. How we respond to that anger has an important impact on our well-being.

  2. Righteous anger using your emotions to motivate action is a healthy response, whereas resentment destroys people’s ability to cope and feel better.

  3. Sometimes events happen that are out of your control. Radical acceptance of one’s circumstances — acknowledging the reality of the situation without judgment or wishful thinking — can help health care workers and others remain focused on what they can do and keep them from becoming overwhelmed.

  4. Physicians are compassionate people but often set high expectations for themselves and judge themselves harshly. Take self-compassion breaks by taking a few deep breaths or placing your hand over your heart. Notice your breath along with the pressure and warmth from your hand. Remind yourself that this is a challenging time for everyone and that you deserve some grace as you try to do your best — whatever your best may be in that moment.

  5. Practice healthy forms of coping. Problem-focused coping methods deal with a stressor directly and involve finding a solution to an underlying issue. This is only helpful when a stressor is within your control. Emotion-focused coping involves changing your response to a stressful situation and finding a way to live with it. This isn’t something you have to do alone — seeking support from friends, family, colleagues and professionals can be helpful.

  6. Forgiveness has important positive mental and physical effects for the forgiver. This does not mean someone’s bad behavior or rudeness toward you should not be addressed and possibly disciplined, but trying to understand why the person hurt you can change your perspective in a way that helps you to heal and move forward.

  7. Recognize when you have to call it. Rather than pushing yourself past a breaking point, acknowledge when you’ve reached your limit and respond accordingly. Taking a break or requesting backup and reinforcements when needed are signs of professionalism and will allow you to return to functioning effectively much sooner while minimizing risk of harm to yourself and your patients.