With the global pandemic closing borders, creating economic instability, and confining many to their homes, it can be hard to keep from getting overwhelmed with worry . . .
. . . especially for our clients who already struggle with anxiety.
So in the video below, Christine Padesky, PhD, Ron Siegel, PsyD, and I share three ways to help clients reduce anxiety and find some relief from ruminating thoughts – even during a time of crisis (when it’s a lot easier for anxiety to take hold in the mind).
Please have a look.
Dr. Siegel: You know, as you talk about the “what-if” and what we would do in response, I think it’s also important to keep in mind that we each have different styles of coping with these kinds of things. I was in Europe recently and had some uncertainty about how to get back to the States, and what the quarantine status would be. For me, it works better to do one day at a time: “Okay the choice now is how to get on a plane,” and my daughter was saying, “Well you have to cancel your patients, you won’t be able to see them in-person,” and my wife was saying, “I want to have a plan for when you get back about how we’re going to socially isolate,” and it was interesting to see our different coping strategies. For me, it was, “I’m going to do better to do what has to happen this hour, what happens in the next hour, and to believe in the self-efficacy to be able to tackle that.” Whereas, for other people, to have the contingency plans laid out is what’s comforting. So it brought home to me that it’s also useful to inquire for ourselves and our clients, “What’s better for you, which particular strategy suits your needs better?,” since we are all facing such radical uncertainty.
Dr. Buczynski: Couple things that you triggered from everything you said, with Christine, you talked about the “what-ifs”, I think there’s also a tendency to go into the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” stuff. “What if I would have taken my money out of the stock market or what if I wouldn’t have put it in or what if I put it in something safer?” or ‘if only’ kind of thing. Same with, perhaps, contacts and the degree to which we’ve isolated. All of that is just going into a ruminating and building up the anxiety. The other thing I would say is, think about who we can help take care of, how we can be part of someone else’s common humanity who needs looking out for. That may include people who are needed, like maybe we think about bringing them meals if we’ve got physicians or nurses in our community who are needed in the hospitals, maybe we can think about who’s healthy and able-bodied who can look after their children or can bring them meals or something so that they can stay, they’re going to be needed in a week or two if there’s a buildup in the amount of people in hospitals. There is an awful lot that we can do and I think if we can focus on compassion, we can bring out our best and be the human beings that we would most want to be.
Dr. Siegel: Yeah and I think it’s very important for us to recognize in ourselves, our clients, and everybody that that both clear thinking and compassion tend to go offline when we’re very frightened. We need to have a sort of healthy skepticism if we find ourselves spinning out of control with “what-if” fantasies, realizing, “Okay well this is what being anxious is, it’s losing the capacity to step back and think. If we’re all worried about me, and not putting our efforts into reaching out to others, that’s also what happens, compassion tends to go offline when fight-or-flight predominates. So we can just be nice to ourselves to understand that, but also to do what we can to reinforce clear thinking and compassion.
Dr. Padesky: For therapists, I think this means we also have to be compassionate toward ourselves, and therapists, I think, are going to feel really split in this time, between caring for themselves and family or friends, and caring for their clients as well. We’re going to need to take care of ourselves so that we don’t get spread too thin and also realize that we can devote part of every day to self-care, as well as caring for others.
Dr. Buczynski: Thank you, thank you. That was Dr. Christine Padesky and Dr. Ron Siegel, I’m Dr. Ruth Buczynski, we’re all licensed psychologists here in California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Take good care everyone, bye.
By working with clients to think through their “then what” plans, we can help them let go of their “what ifs” and stop rehearsing what could have been done differently.
And if that feels overwhelming, they might connect more with Ron’s strategy.
This is the second part of my conversation with Christine and Ron. If you’d like to see part one for some ideas about managing anxiety, particularly when patients are self-isolating, please have a look here.
Now we’d like to hear from you. What have you found most helpful for your clients who are stuck in the “what ifs” and “coulda woulda shouldas?” How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your practice?
Please share a comment below.