COVID-19 Employee Resources

Taking Care of Your Emotional Health as you Navigate through the Coronavirus Crisis

A Guide for Faculty and Staff

As humans, we often rely on how others respond as a sort of heuristic or cognitive shortcut to navigate through uncertain territory and times—including our current response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One thing that relates here, I believe, is the principle of Social Proof, which suggests that our response to most circumstances is often patterned after that of others. Psychologist Robert Cialdini, in his bestselling book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” writes,

“Whether the question is what to do with an empty popcorn box in a movie theater, how fast to drive on a certain stretch of highway, or how to eat the chicken at a dinner party, the actions of those around us will be important in defining the answer.”

Another important facet of our 21st-century consumer culture is to rely on product reviews, which often have a powerful impact on product’s viability.

Simply stated, we often decide a product is good if others say it is good and bad if others say it is bad.

Our emotional response to uncertain circumstances usually follows a similar pattern. When we are overwhelmed by our emotions, we automatically look to see how others respond, especially those in positions of influence.

With all of these realities to our complicated world, and with the threats presented by COVID-19 pandemic for not just our country but for our lives as well, I believe there are some important things to remember:

  1. Remaining in a place of calm will allow us the greatest amount of energy to clearly process, problem solve, and arrive at potentially life-saving solutions. Exercise patience and endurance. This crisis may last longer than we think.
  2. Individual members of groups will most likely respond based on how they interpret the group’s response to stress. In other words, if the group is highly stressed, individuals in the group will tend to also become highly stressed.
  3. Social distancing measures which will help reduce the spread of the virus and promote health are often diametrically opposed to our need for survival which is often dependent directly on how we experience a sense of community and belonging.
  4. As members of the collective group, especially those of influence, it’s important to develop strong coping responses and demonstrate personal traits of resilience and inner strength. As we do that, individual members of the groups we belong to will also be attracted to, and embrace, those responses.

Access your Reserve of Resilience and Coping Skills to Release Critical Energy

Rediscovering your gifts of resilience and coping will not only release the energy you need to solve problems in this time of crisis, it will also directly contribute to the emotional stability of your collective group.

I’d like to share some stress-reducing strategies that you may find helpful:

  1. Stay informed, but be intentional in choosing reputable sources of information and limit your overall daily exposure to the deluge of information that’s now streaming through every corner of the media. As an example, you may choose to watch the news for a set time daily and then avoid watching it past your designated set time. It’s not likely that you’ll miss any earth shattering news during your downtime, and this will hopefully strengthen your peace of mind.
  2. Limit your conversations about the pandemic and its impact. The more you focus on distressing news, the greater your stress. Choose to disengage from social media throughout the day and talk about other interests.
  3. As a Michigan Executive Order calls for us to shelter in place over the next few weeks, you’ll need to create a daily plan—specially if you have children—that allows you to attend to multiple dimensions of your life (i.e. times for meals, play, sleep, catch up with work, exercise, home maintenance, meditation or prayer, connecting with friends virtually, etc.)
  4. It’s especially important to set aside time each day for a moment of relaxation, a time to clear and renew your mind. Taking some time, 15–20 minutes, each day may be sufficient. Mind renewal activities may include a progressive muscle relaxation routine, a guided imagery experience (reflecting on God, nature and other peaceful things), a series of stretching movements, etc. A relaxation app on your phone may provide you with a number of relaxation opportunities. Most are free to download. Laughter has amazing healing properties.
  5. Remember that your thoughts play a major role in how you feel. Your automatic thoughts strongly influence your emotional response. So pause to take inventory of your thought patterns, and remember that you can choose to change those neural pathways in your brain. Negative thoughts yield negative emotions while positive and optimistic thoughts yield positive emotions and hope.
  6. Choose a hopeful message, a positive quote or your favorite Bible verse about overcoming or God’s power in your life, and place that message in strategic locations where you will be able to refer to it throughout the day. When your thoughts gravitate to negative speculations, replace them with your empowerment thought for the day.
  7. Remember that you operate within a comprehensive system. Your physical health greatly impacts your emotional health and vice versa. To remain in an emotionally stable place, you need to take care of your immune system. Attending to your immune system not only helps in protecting you from the virus but also helps in your remaining emotionally sound
    • Be intentional in setting aside 7–8 hours of sleep per night
    • Be intentional in drinking plenty of water. Remain hydrated.
    • Be intentional in increasing your intake of nutritious foods.
    • Be intentional in reducing emotional eating and your intake of non-nutritious foods.
    • Be intentional in engaging in some form of exercise, preferably outdoors, but not necessarily. At the very least you can walk continuously around your home for 15–20 minutes daily. Some music may help with the monotony.
  8. Nurture your need for community and belonging during these challenging days by becoming more creative in connecting positively virtually. In the Italian town of Sienna, residents sang as a community from their balconies to create a sense of fun and solidarity. Examples of community building activities may include:
    • Multiple groups choosing to watch a movie at the same time, then creating a chat to review the movie.
    • Facetiming friends and family.
    • Using media to establish video or audio connections.
    • Selecting group games that promote discussions, dialog and creative thinking.
    • Especially if living alone, opening a phone line between your residence and another and engaging in conversations while attending to life in your home.
  9. Monitor your own fears, worries, frustration, sadness and anger, and be intentional in reaching out to others you trust to talk about those feelings. Keeping those feelings inside intensifies the pain and exacerbates feelings of aloneness and anxiety. This is a very difficult time that most of us did not anticipate.
  10. Monitor your feelings of guilt and worries about personal and professional responsibilities that may have been affected by this crisis. Yes, you may not be able to attend to all of the things for which you are responsible, but remember that your life and wellbeing are a priority. Identify critical responsibilities needing your attention and give yourself permission to focus your energy on only essential matters. Stay in the moment, try to be flexible, and don’t allow non-essential things to deplete your energy, especially at a time when you need to be at your emotional best to make decisions critical to your survival and that of others.
  11. Remember that your personal response to this crisis impacts not only you but those around you. Reach out to your contemporaries and those of the younger generation with calm and peace. You don’t have to be fake, but embrace your faith, your resilience, and your spirit of hope and optimism. “This too shall pass” often helps us look with hope beyond a stressful moment. Adopting an attitude of gratitude not only promotes healing within us but also has a contagious effect all around us.
  12. You may have personally known someone who died from complications of COVID-19 or, as most of us, you may feel a sense of grief and loss as you hear about the thousands who are in hospitals or have lost their lives within the past few weeks. Acknowledge your personal or collective feeling of grief, and be gentle with yourself. Give yourself permission to experience the process of grief. Feelings of doubt, sadness and distress eventually progress to feelings of acceptance and resolution. It’s okay to feel the pain. Healing is usually on the horizon.
  13. Strengthen your connection with the God of the universe through meditation and prayer. Connecting with a most powerful and compassionate God in our moments of uncertainty and fear reassures us of safety and restoration. It is in our most helpless moments that God’s presence and holding power can be most felt.
  14. Remember that being created in the image of an omniscient and omnipotent God gives us access to His powers of healing and restoration. Tell yourself repeatedly that we will live through this crisis and we will move beyond this moment. This belief needs to be at the forefront of your mind throughout the day. Choosing to stay in a place of positivity and hope gives you an extra edge, especially in difficult times. The world around us may operate from a place of worry and despair, but we who believe in a personable and compassionate Almighty God will achieve “perfect peace” in the midst of the storm. Hold on to the promise in Isaiah 26:3: “You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You” (NKJV).
  15. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Health agencies and health insurance companies are encouraging those affected by this crisis to reach out to professional emotional support at this time as the needs arise. Telehealth services are becoming more available nationwide. You don’t have to leave the safety of your home to access the professional services of a psychologist, professional counselor, licensed clinical social worker, psychiatrist, or any other mental health professional, especially during this crisis. Remember that it is a sign of courage to seek help and healing. Ask for a professional referral and reach out for help. Many in isolation or quarantine may experience trauma, and the sooner they access professional support, the sooner they will achieve relief.

Let’s remember that we humans have overcome countless tragedies throughout time, and we have done that by gathering together within the safe parameters of a caring community.

We may not presently fully understand the “why” of our current circumstances with the COVID-19 global pandemic, but we can remain hopeful.

We live in an imperfect world, where painful events can tear our very soul, but our sense of belonging to an amazing and all-powerful Heavenly Father and to a nurturing community promotes healing and growth. To those of us in positions of influence, let’s embrace our multiple gifts of inner strength and resilience, let’s reach out to the younger generations with understanding, empathy, hope and support, and let’s model healthy responses reflecting our faith and conviction that “we shall overcome” no matter the challenges. God is in control…. We will move beyond this mountain, and Jehovah Rapha will grant us healing as individuals, as a nation, and as members of the human race.

For any mental health assistance, including confidential clinical consults and professional referrals, please do not hesitate to contact our University Counseling & Testing Center. During this time of crisis, in addition to the counseling services that continue to be available to all Andrews University students, we are extending our clinical support to include Andrews University faculty and staff. You may call our contact number below for brief confidential consults and referrals. We are committed to be of support to you. When you call, please leave a message with your name and contact information and a clinician will return your call.

If you have an emergency, do not leave a message, but hang up and dial the University Office of Campus Safety (269-471-3321), which has 24-hour coverage, or dial 911.

Judith B. Fisher, Licensed Psychologist
Director, Psychological Services/Counseling & Testing Center
269-471-3470