The news about the COVID-19 pandemic changes every day. There is so much information to process that it might feel like a tidal wave. In these uncertain times, it’s difficult for many to cope. Individuals, including counsellors themselves, may be looking for strategies to mitigate the negative effects on mental health caused by the pandemic.
Responses to stress and crisis vary among individuals (CAMH 2020), but there are ways for professional counsellors to help others and help themselves ride the wave of uncertainty, so to speak. Keep reading for a few suggestions.
Use Your Counsellor Training to Help Clients and Yourself Name Feelings
As COVID-19 news evolves, professionals with counsellor training and mental health expertise can offer the public a way to cope with their feelings as they process this situation. David Kessler is one of the co-creators of the Kübler-Ross model of grief, and his advice is to name the feelings we experience (Berinato 2020).
According to Kessler, one of the prevalent feelings many have currently is called “anticipatory grief” and acknowledging it is the first step to managing it. Anticipatory grief describes a situation in which an individual may be imagining many worst-case scenarios, and Kessler notes that “unhealthy anticipatory grief is really anxiety” (Berinato 2020).
The solution is not to suppress imagination, but rather attempt to “find balance in things you’re thinking,” and imagine good scenarios as well. If you are worried about aging parents, imagine they do not get the virus. During these events, it is also important to “let yourself feel the grief and keep going”(Berinato 2020).
Looking to the Future
Community activists and others have long been advocating for some of the measures that governments are now taking to support people in the face of the pandemic. Looking forward, the Employment Minister, Carla Qualtrough, suggested “the newly created benefit for workers whose livelihoods are affect by COVID-19 may be a model for how the federal government helps unemployed Canadians in the future” (Press 2020).
It is this gesture of looking to the future that may help support those with counsellor therapist training and their clients now. This is because “seeing ourselves at this moment, at the edge of what is most certainly a historical precipice, we have many different paths before us” (Elliot 2020). As “governments are finding billions, even trillions of dollars to distribute” we can imagine a future in which the priorities of our communities include housing for the homeless, universal drug plans, access to clean drinking water for everyone and other relief many people in Canada have been waiting for (Elliot 2020).
There is tremendous power in having something to look forward to in times of crisis or grief. Indeed, “hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act” (Solnit 2016). As such, you may want to encourage clients and yourself to think proactively about your ideal future. This can make it easier to navigate current stresses, and offers a reminder that the current situation is temporary and will one day end.
The 5-4-3-2-1 Technique
What else can you and your clients do in the face of overwhelming feelings? One answer is to take a moment to feel grounded in the present moment.
The 5-4-3-2-1 technique will be familiar to those who have studied mindfulness or coped with anxiety before. The idea is that when you are feeling anxious or worried, you take the following steps. Acknowledge: 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste (Smith 2018). This will bring you into your present moment and surroundings, and provide relief from worry or uncertainty, even if only for a moment.
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Berinato, Scott (2020). That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief
Bogart, Nicole (2020). WHO expert’s advice for Canada: don’t just flatten the curve, curtail it. CTV News. Retrieved from: https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/who-expert-s-advice-for-canada-don-t-just-flatten-the-curve-curtail-it-1.4873136
CAMH (2020). Mental Health and the COVID-19 Pandemic. CAMH. Retrieved from: https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-health-and-covid-19
Elliot, Alicia (2020). After the crisis, what kind of world do we want? Post-apocalyptic novels hold lessons – and warnings. CBC Arts. Retrieved from: https://www.cbc.ca/arts/after-the-crisis-what-kind-of-world-do-we-want-post-apocalyptic-novels-hold-lessons-and-warnings-1.5509721
Jackson, Hannah (2020). China donates medical supplies to Canada amid coronavirus pandemic, Embassy says. Global News. Retrieved from: https://globalnews.ca/news/6745817/china-donates-medical-supplies-canada/
Press, Jordan (2020). Benefit to COVID-19 impacted workers may be model for future: Qualtrough. National Post. Retrieved from: https://nationalpost.com/pmn/news-pmn/canada-news-pmn/benefit-to-covid-19-impacted-workers-may-be-model-for-future-qualtrough
Smith, Sara (2018). 5-4-3-2-1 Coping Technique for Anxiety. University of Rochester Medical Center. Retrieved from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/behavioral-health-partners/bhp-blog/april-2018/5-4-3-2-1-coping-technique-for-anxiety.aspx
Solnit, Rebecca (2016). ‘Hope is an embrace of the unknown’: Rebecca Solnit on living in dark times. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jul/15/rebecca-solnit-hope-in-the-dark-new-essay-embrace-unknown
Tasker, John Paul (2020). Parliament passes Ottawa’s $107 billion COVID -19 aid package. CBC News. Retrieved from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/covid19-coronavirus-ottawa-hill-economic-legislation-1.5509178