health

A clinical psychologist shares the 7 coping strategies she's teaching her clients right now.

As we’re told countless times a day, we’re living in uncertain and unprecedented times.

Every single person has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic is one way or another, and that’s having an impact on our mental health.

To help you out, we spoke to clinical psychologist, Amanda Gordon, of Sydney’s Armchair Psychology and Mamamia’s Anxiety Course, to find out how her job has changed since the pandemic began and what strategies she’s teaching her clients to get through our new normal.

Psychologist, Amanda Gordon shares her helpful tips on how to deal with your child’s anxiety around COVID-19. Post continues below.

Video by Mamamia

Here’s what Amanda had to say:

How has your job changed?

The way Amanda does her job has changed too. While she’s moved her clients online, she says she’s also been impacted by her new ‘working from home’ routine.

“I’ve lost the things that help me achieve a work-life balance,” she says. “Normally I go to the gym a couple of times a week and do a dance class a couple of times a week and I can’t do those things right now.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“So I have to be careful to retain those spaces in my diary and do something for myself and preferably something physical too.”

In general, how are your regular clients coping? What are their anxieties and worries?

Amanda says all of her patients have been affected by COVID-19 in some way or another.

“First 15 minutes of every one of my regular sessions has been taken up with how they’re feeling and a need to talk about it. It’s interfering with normal life obviously and this is to be expected,” she says.

The degree to how much people are impacted by fears around the coronavirus varied too.

“Suddenly the virus and their anxieties around that are more important than the relationship issues or the other things that have been going on. For some people, it’s the fear of being locked up with their partner when they were with me to deal with their relationship issues,” she continues. “For people who are normally anxious or pessimistic, they’re feeling those thoughts are being confirmed, and that terrifies them.”

“Different people have different issues. Some people are cancelling their appointments, which is very interesting because I think they’re stunned. They’re just so overwhelmed with everything and they can’t deal with it.”

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Armchair Psychology (@armchair_psychology_sydney) on

What’s the most surprising concern you’ve heard from a client?

Throughout her entire client base, Amanda says she’s seen people immediately re-prioritise their lives.

“I’m amazed people are able to put their very dramatic personal stories behind them and just talk about what’s happening outside. This includes what they’ve seen and what other people are feeling and saying,” she says.

ADVERTISEMENT

“There’s also a reaching out and connecting with community in a way, because normally it’s all about what’s happening to them in the moment.”

What are some challenging emotions your patients report struggling with?

While anxiety and worry are key concerns, grief is another emotion most of us are probably experiencing right now. Even if we don’t know it.

“I think we’re all grieving the loss of our normal lives,” she says. “If we don’t acknowledge that it’s different and that it’s changed then we won’t be able to move on and enjoy the new one.”

“Anxiety is all about the arousal system, grief is not. Don’t be surprised if you have some tears. They would be honest and true. You can label it as anxiety or as a panic attack, or you can be true to yourself and be a bit sad.

missed miscarriage
"Anxiety is all about the arousal system, grief is not." Image: Getty.

Amanda also stresses the importance of acknowledging and accepting our grief, especially if emotions like worry and anxiety are at play.

"I ask my clients to get in touch with that part of their emotional system because it will be going on somewhere and part of what panic does is block you from that emotional response.

"You also need to remember that you don't need to get 'stuck' in grief - just like you don't need to be 'stuck' in anxiety, even though it will flare up from time to time."

What are some coping mechanisms you've shared with your patients?

1. Identify what you have control over.

"It's not a good idea to spend your time talking about things of which you have no control," says Amanda.

"What is helpful is to find those aspects in life of which you have some control and start having some agency - that's a really sensible thing to do."

2. Create a routine.

ADVERTISEMENT

A schedule is a great example of something you have control over, and part of that should be a demarkation between your work and home life.

Some ways you can do this include moving to a different space, changing clothes, having a bath or deliberately shutting your computer off and putting a cloth over the top of it.

3. Have a laugh but be weary of dark humour.

"We might be in quarantine, but we can still have a laugh. We can still smile, we can still sing songs and play music," says Amanda.

However, she urges people to avoid dark or overly self-deprecating humour, i.e. some memes.

"The healthier thing to do is to laugh about things that are actually funny and acknowledge that this is pretty tough and to grieve this moment," she says.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Me at a coffee shop after quarantine: just fuck me up fam @horrorstruck_

A post shared by Lola Tash and Nicole Argiris (@mytherapistsays) on

4. Connect with your wider community (while practicing social distancing).

"A very good strategy for managing your mental health is to help others. You'd be amazed at how much better you'll feel," says Amanda.

This can include phoning your loved ones, offering to help your neighbours, and even asking your friendship group to help you pick up supplies from the supermarket. Amanda says this will help us become a more "protective and supportive community".

"If you are looking out for others, one of the nice things that happen is that people tend to look out for you. By reaching out we also make it more likely that we will be asked too."

ADVERTISEMENT

5. Limit your news consumption.

"I say to people to consume the news a maximum of twice a day and once your kids are in bed, not before," advises Amanda.

"Find some other things to talk about but once or twice a day acknowledge that this is what it is."

6. Repurpose your commute time.

For those of us lucky enough to be able to work from home, this is a great way to add structure to your day.

"You can use that time to talk to people or do a relaxation exercise or a meditation. You could also get up and go for a walk in the morning. It's another thing you have control over," says Amanda.

7. Learn a new skill.

Whether it's a new hobby or a new language, this can also give you agency, says Amanda.

However, don't let this be another thing to tick off the to-do list. Choose activities you genuinely enjoy.

"My goal for people is that we come out of this quarantine as healthy as possible but also more connected with ourselves and other people," she says.

What are you doing to keep yourself mentally healthy at the moment?

Practicing what she preaches, Amanda is also learning a new skill.

"My husband was going to get me a piano for my birthday because I've always wanted to learn the piano but for various reasons I haven't done so," she says.

"Well, my electric piano arrived today and I'm going to start learning. We're downloading a program to begin with and when this is all over, I'll get a teacher. I'm very excited."

At what point might someone want to seek the help of a psychologist?

While it's "perfectly reasonable" to feel a bit anxious in these very difficult and abnormal circumstances, you might want to consider professional help if you find you're unable to regulate your emotions.

"It's perfectly reasonable to feel a bit anxious. If you didn't, there might be something wrong with you," she says.

"If you're being overwhelmed, and it's non-stop anxiety and worry, don't think I'll manage on my own.

"You want to try to regulate your emotions so you can have some parts of the day where you feel calm and some time where you feel confident and safe. If not, you should probably try talking to someone."

What are some coping mechanisms that you're finding helpful right now? Tell us in a comment below.

The current situation around COVID-19 might be making you feel scared or uncertain. It's okay to feel this way, but it's also important to learn how to manage feelings of anxiety during this time. To download the free PDF: Anxiety & Coronavirus - How to Manage Feelings of Anxiety click here.

00:00 / ???