Families, Inc. Trumann Clinical Supervisor and psychologist Dr. Dana Watson has been featured regularly this spring on KFIN’s Breakfast Club to discuss maintaining a healthy mindset during the coronavirus pandemic. The following transcript is of her conversation with KFIN’s Brandon Baxter on April 8, 2020.
Q: Things are really changing. Even more than two weeks ago when we last spoke.
I’ll be honest with you, a couple nights ago, I broke down and cried to my momma for an hour. We are physically distancing from her to keep her safe, but it’s starting to take a toll on me. I can only imagine how it is affecting older people, people who are ill or immunocompromised and some single people. There are children who aren’t graduating, proms that aren’t happening and pregnant women who can’t fully enjoy pregnancies due to COVID. I realized I’m grieving these changes and my mom’s hugs and that’s what I told her on the phone. I just talked and processed it, and she just listened and reassured me. We are all starting to grieve the lives we had. Alone together as they say.
There are so many things to figure out right now: how to keep ourselves, our families, our parents and friends safe, keeping those who have compromised immune systems from getting sick, figuring out AMI packets and child care, feeling isolated, worrying about income or job loss, whether we have enough groceries, of course the recent tornado and its aftereffects on top of COVID… and this is not even an all-encompassing list.
Q: Let’s talk about jobs and income loss. Lots of people are experiencing these issues, and it is really stressful right now. What do you say to them?
First, I would say, I’m sorry. The ones of us who have not lost our jobs—or have not yet lost our jobs—see you and we worry about you and we empathize with you. There is so much unknown and so much fear, and we all know we don’t want to be in that place. You are not alone, even though I know it must feel scary right now.
Losing a job, in general, can create so much fear and stress. But since this “new normal” may last for an extended time, it’s particularly scary. We have such little control right now. That makes it different than losing a job a couple months ago when you might have been able to secure another job more quickly.
Q: It’s like grief.
I want to make sure that any listener who has experienced—or may experience—a job loss knows that it is well researched and proven that the feelings you have when losing a job are often similar to and as powerful as the grief associated with losing a loved one. There is a loss of routine, of identity, of financial security and of interpersonal connections. People have described job loss as “devastating” and “catastrophic.”
For most people, there are varying degrees of the grief stages of shock and denial, anger and bargaining and, eventually, acceptance and hope. And I think when you can understand that these are normal and expected emotions, you are more prepared to recognize those feelings, cope with them as they arise and to be compassionate with yourself as you work through them.
Q: Because you can become depressed or anxious, right?
Absolutely. Some level of depression is common after a job loss. You are a human being. You are entitled to feel all your feelings. But when depression or anxiety gets too high and isn’t well managed, we get to a point where we’re in survival mode and not in rational thinking mode.
So, when we feel that level of stress coming on, we should allow ourselves some quiet time to reset. I think this is best done by creating space and allowing those thoughts and feelings and tears to come. You know it’s so normal to feel emotional and overwhelmed. Let it come and when it’s over—almost always a lot faster than we anticipate—our brains are usually in a more rational and productive state. We can start to see the big picture and make plans for how to proceed.
Q: Are there some resources or places a person could start?
There are lots of resources for meditation and mindfulness online that can help. If you are experiencing these hardships, you are more vulnerable to depression and anxiety. So, it is important to take care of yourself and to focus on what you can control.
It is also important to connect to these COVID-expanded resources that are available. Financial experts recommend contacting your creditors, cutting out unnecessary expenses and locating community resources as quickly as possible. I think just as we are supposed to act like we already have the virus and physically distance, we should start to give some thought to an action plan in case this does happen to us.
Q: What about children? How do we talk to them about job loss?
Please remember, they are always watching us. Model healthy coping skills and behaviors for your children. They will grow up and cope with struggles and stressors as they see you do. You want kids that are anxious and overwhelmed and miserable in life? Model that. If you want kids who can take adversity and find ways to move forward, get creative and stay optimistic? Model that. Let them know you’ve been dealt a blow, but you’re working on a plan and in charge of keeping them safe.
Focus on what you can control instead of what you cannot control. You have power over your own self-care and your attitude. Be gentle with yourself and others. Forgive yourself when you do lose it, apologize to those around you, discuss your feelings and thoughts and needs. And if you want to thrive and feel good but you’re struggling, model getting professional help. That’s self-care.
Q: What about tips for day-to-day self-care? What can we do now that everyone is out of school and this is our new normal?
1. Stay connected to other people. We have to stay distant physically but not emotionally distant. Get super creative in your own home and in your neighborhood. Neighborhoods can start weekly “eat dinner together—in your own driveway or sidewalk,” events, Easter egg, rainbow, teddy bear hunts, signs in windows, social media and virtual groups, virtual happy hours, virtual game nights.
2. Stay on schedule. This gives a sense of normalcy and routine and creates safety when we and our children know what to expect in a time when we are struggling to know what to expect.
3. Set goals for the day. Your family can decide on an academic goal, a physical goal, an emotional goal and a creativity goal. Come out of this having learned something, having used the time wisely. Don’t just survive this—thrive in ways you never even thought of, or thought you could have time for.
4. Keep perspective. This will be difficult, but this will not last forever. This will not last forever.
5. Stay fact based; don’t let yourself fall into catastrophizing. And if you find yourself there, stop and reset.
6. Get out of your own head and give back to others. If you know a person who has lost a job, write a letter and take some groceries over. My personal favorite is phone calls, thoughtful letters and surprise deliveries to older people.