During this pandemic, it’s safe to say that most of us have experienced grief and suffering to some extent. In holding our human grief and suffering, it’s common to wonder how much of it  is natural given the emotional impact of current times, and how much of it is triggered by how we process stories and experiences that we’re holding. In either case, it’s important to remember that nearly two months into Shelter in Place (although, I’m aware that some states are in phases of re-opening up businesses), we are still without the globally coveted manual that has yet to exist, “How to Cope Perfectly during a Pandemic”. It likely won’t ever come to exist, as we’re continuing to engage the reality that there really isn’t a perfect way to cope during a pandemic. Yet, this doesn’t alleviate common stressors involving relationships, concerns of productivity, parenting challenges, or even the increase need of rest and leisure, while sheltering in place. 

The “Catch, Challenge, Change” technique is geared toward reducing distress by unhooking from thought ruts and can also help healthily address interpersonal conflicts, given common complaints that have surfaced during this pandemic. Here it’s used with a different spin that makes it applicable to various circumstances and complaints. 

Some of these common complaints are:

Couples- “[He, she, or they] must think that I can’t do anything right.”

College students that are now back home- “Every time I’m told to calm down or take a break, it makes me feel like they think I can’t take care of myself. I’ve been taking care of myself while away from home for months.”

Teens- “They’re posting graduation pics as if it helps me focus on the positives, when it’s just reminding me of how much I’m missing out on with my friends.”

Individuals who live alone- “I’m feeling so forgotten by them and it’s like they don’t get it, but saying something right now would be risking more rejection and I don’t want to feel more isolated.”

Folks working from home- “I’m expected to be just as productive as I was when working at the office, but work and home life are just too blended for me right now and it’s hard to stay motivated. Things have changed. ”

No matter what your complaints are, they are valid and deserve to be explored fully so that you can really decipher the needs that are genuinely trying to be expressed through complaint or the held distress in your body. Consider the analogy of a painting. When you focus on one color stroke in the painting, it’s easy to be engulfed by the thoughts and emotions that it evokes. Additionally, focusing on one color stroke, can rob you of perspective of the whole painting. It’s not until you take a step back from the painting that you see all its colors, and gain more clarity on what’s actually happening and its overall effect on you. Suddenly, the parts of the painting (or artwork) that felt distressing when you were engulfed in it, become more tolerable. You can practice this technique by treating each event or complaint as a an opportunity of exploration to Catch, Challenge, and Change. You owe this to yourself, and your body which likely longs for safety and ease during this pandemic.  

Here’s the “How to”…

Catch: Watch the whole scene of what’s causing you distress without hooking onto any particular moment of the scene; that way you get to see it all the way through which provides opportunity to catch other parts of the scene previously missed. 

Challenge: Take notice to any variability in the scene. Sometimes, what we’ve missed while hooked to a distressing part of a scene or experience, are one or more important details that can liberate us from negative beliefs we hold about ourselves in the experience, as well as how perceive and engage others.

For instance, a person who feels expected to be just as productive at home as they are in the office, can likely catch the moment where the pressure of being productive at home, became felt in their body. Perhaps, someone asked  them for a timeline on when a task would be completed, or a word was used during a meeting that activated a felt sense of urgency to perform and prove themselves adequate. This leads to the step of challenge where a person can build insight on how they’ve previously equated productivity to perfection. On a regular day, it seemed bearable to equate the two, but during a pandemic, increased fatigue exposes how how much unrealistic expectations they’ve previously held themselves to. With this increased insight of variability, one can now practice responding oppositely to unrealistic expectations, by slowing down and reality checking each expectation. 

Change: Do an opposite action reflective of present circumstance. If continuing use of the example provided above, change would look like adjusting workload to a schedule that fits one’s current environment, with tasks agreeable to one’s level of energy during a certain part of the day, as well as deconstructing these tasks into smaller parts as needed with intermittent breaks as needed. 

So as we continue to cope through this pandemic, take some time to catch, challenge, and change how you engage with situations that arise and cause distress. It’s natural to experience a variety emotions at this time. Yet, an inclination when experiencing distressing emotions or pain is to take excessive responsibility (self-blame) or to blame others. However, no matter who or what we blame, it rarely provides relief. Rather, it causes continual suffering by discomfort already felt.

Carmelle Ellison, LCSW

I help high-achieving adults, especially in the BIPOC community live authentically wholesome lives via telehealth therapy throughout California.

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