If the recent pandemic has made you feel like you have no control, or has spiked your anxiety, you’re not alone. When we face uncertainty, feeling out of control is normal, even expected.
In our current crisis, fear and anxiety are completely normal responses — we’re dealing with real concerns about our health and the health of those we love. The good news is, if you are feeling a bit unraveled right now, there are steps you can take to ground yourself and regain that sense of control that you were accustomed to pre–COVID.
Dr. Russ Harris, author of The Happiness Trap, and internationally- acclaimed ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) trainer, has created a set of practical steps for regaining control specific to the COVID-19 crisis, called FACE COVID. Let’s break it down, letter by letter, below. If it’s helpful, we recommend taking a screenshot of the steps and saving the photo to your favorites, so you can reference the steps whenever you need them.
F = Focus on what’s in your control
A = Acknowledge your thoughts & feelings
C = Come back into your body
E = Engage in what you’re doing
C = Committed action
O = Opening up
V = Values
I = Identify resources
D = Disinfect & distance
Focus on what’s in your control. This means understanding what is not in your control. You can’t control the virus, your state’s response, the economy, school closures, you can’t even control your neighbor’s response—the list goes on and on. It’s easy to get caught up in these scary thoughts and ruminate about all these scenarios that are simply out of our control. You are spending a lot of energy worrying and this is neither useful nor productive. You can however control what YOU are doing right now. Let’s focus on what IS in your control. The actions that you take for yourself and your family matter and can have far reaching positive implications.
If you’re wondering, “OK, that sounds great, but how am I supposed to do that?” that’s where the next step comes in.
Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings. Letting go of what’s out of your control does not mean ignoring your feelings about it. In order to create distance between your thoughts and feelings and reactions, you need to acknowledge these feelings with curiosity and kindness. If a friend told you they were nervous right now, you would comfort them. Do the same with yourself. It’s OK to say to yourself, “I’m nervous because this is out of my control,” or “the news is making me scared.” Naming it can help assuage it.
Come back into your body. When your thoughts are spinning, the fastest way to ground yourself is through your own physicality. Try pushing your feet hard into the floor or pushing your fingertips together. Try a few stretches, maybe even doing yoga cat-cows on the floor. Keep your feelings and thoughts in mind while you do this — these movements are not meant to distract you, but to remind you of what you can control while experiencing difficult feelings.
Engage in what you’re doing. This means to engage in your surroundings or a task in a fully focused manner. One easy way to do this is by using the 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique: list 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. You can also do tasks like going through the objects in your room and noting how long you’ve had the object, where it came from, and your best memory of it. This step is about refocusing your attention, so use whatever technique works for you.
You can repeat these steps until you’ve started to gain a sense of control. We also recommend visiting the meditations in your Sanvello Toolkit. Try “Your Five Senses,” “Present in this Moment,” or “Observe Your Surroundings.”
Committed action. This means taking an action to gain control in the face of your anxiety. In the case of the pandemic, this includes doing your part by taking protective measures against the virus – handwashing, physical distancing, etc.
Don’t forget to include self-care actions that promote mental well-being for yourself and those you love. Taking into consideration that most of us are under “stay at home” orders, we may have to get creative. This can mean setting up virtual hangouts with friends, setting time for a relaxing bath, finding workouts to do at home, or finally getting around to that hobby you’ve been meaning to for years. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself throughout the day, “what can I do right now to be more compassionate to myself or to others?” Be intentional, commit and take action.
Opening up. Be vulnerable with yourself. Remember vulnerability is a sign of strength not weakness. Allow yourself the space to recognize the tsunami of emotions you may be experiencing like fear, grief, anger, sadness, frustration and helplessness, just to name a few. Practice self-compassion, this can include incorporating meditations or starting a gratitude journal. In your Sanvello Toolkit, you can use the Hope board to keep track of the things you’re grateful for, and revisit them when you’re feeling low.
Values. Who do you want to be during this crisis? How do you want to treat yourself and others? Be mindful of your core values which may include love, kindness and honesty, and find ways to incorporate these into your days. Even in this crisis, find ways to let your personal core values motivate your actions.
Identify resources. Knowing who and what to turn to in a difficult time can be all the support you need. Research and decide who you will turn to for advice, comfort, information, and health services. This can include a combination of your friends, family, your medical doctor or therapist. Have a list of emergency phone numbers handy, even in a Note on your phone. If you feel comfortable being a resource to a friend or neighbor, let them know. Decide in advance which websites you will trust and check, like the WHO or the CDC websites.
Disinfect and distance physically. These are obvious, but the best ways to protect yourself and feel in control are to disinfect surfaces and keep physical distance. You not only protect yourself that way, you protect many, many others.
We are living in strange times and dealing with heightened anxiety in the face of this uncertainty. Let’s be gentle with ourselves and kind with each other. Taking the steps outlined above and strengthening our coping skills can help us regain control and build resiliency. In fact, perhaps a silver lighting at the end of this mess is that we will come out of this stronger and more resilient as individuals, families and communities.
By Rosimar Suddeth, LCSW-S
I’ve been a social worker for fifteen years and a licensed clinical therapist for eleven. Like you, I am a card-carrying human and have experienced the joyous ups and painful downs of life. I have learned that we are resilient and so much stronger than we often realize. As a Sanvello teletherapist, my goal is to help others tap into their inner strength and develop treatment goals tailored to their specific needs. Originally from South America, I’ve lived most of my life in the great state of Texas and enjoy spending time with my husband of 11 years and beautiful twin daughters.