By Kristy Harrison, Compass Clinical Associates

Early in the pandemic, I heard an expression that we are all in the same storm but not in the same boat. For me, this has meant that we all have been affected, yet our experiences are unique. Each one of us is facing different struggles as we work to cope with this prolonged stressor. It has presented us an opportunity to attend to our mental well-being and to explore ways to help ourselves. 

I am a mental health therapist and when I talk with individuals, I am listening for clues. I am interested in a person’s ability to notice feelings, to routinely ask oneself, “What am I feeling?” or “What am I experiencing right now?” I view this attentiveness as an initial step to emotional self-care. The second set of clues I explore is what a person’s reaction is. Does the person accept these feelings, ignore them, dismiss them or criticize the feelings? 

I believe that it is important to acknowledge and accept our feelings with a spirit of compassion. In the best of circumstances, it is hard to be a human, and I believe that our internal talk should mostly be compassionate. Once we acknowledge our feelings, we can ask ourselves, “What can I do to help myself?” and “What are my options?” In the language of a therapist, this is when we talk about coping skills. 

There are some coping skills that are mostly helpful. It is helpful to breathe. There are times it is helpful to be highly present or mindful, and other times that it may be helpful to distract ourselves. Our unique coping skills are often identified through experiences, such as noticing that a walk outside lifts our spirit. It is helpful to try different things and notice how one feels.

The challenge with the pandemic is that for many people, keeping yourself safe has served to limit our coping options. We may be missing our social outings, the gym, yoga classes, family gatherings or travel. We are social beings, and having prolonged limits to social interaction is unnatural. Even those of us who consider ourselves to be introverts still need to have some human contact. While we often have to go without face-to-face contacts, we can try some creative ways to connect. 

We are having to be patient and to remind ourselves that our situation is temporary. Our perspective is the one thing over which we can exercise some control. I enjoy reading about people in history who have found ways to get through difficult times. These are stories of human resilience. We have faced and have witnessed many challenges this past year. It is said that crises can bring opportunity. It will be interesting to see what we learn and how we can create opportunities. My hope is that we can continue to build resilience as we weather this storm. 

Kristy Harrison, MSW, LISW, is a clinical social worker with over 20 years of clinical experience.  She works for Compass Clinical Associates in Urbandale. Her practice areas include anxiety, depression, mood regulation issues,  relationships, trauma, and managing life stressors.