COVID, Coping and Control

Whilst there is a great deal of information about how to cope during social isolation available, I would like to give my thoughts on how to come through this crisis with the minimum amount of scarring having built in some healthy coping strategies. This is a time to redefine what we see as ‘success’. This is a time to work on improving communication and on seeking the strengths in ourselves and in each other, and a time to retrain our thoughts and get them on a more constructive path. Brain scans show that imagined reality has almost as powerful an effect on brain function as actual reality and we can choose to redirect less helpful thought processes if we learn the right skills. Redirecting thoughts away from the worst possible outcome and towards thinking up constructive creative things to do is key. As is how to have moments of calm in amongst all the mayhem.

Just thinking or saying loving words changes our physiology, just a little, whereas repeating threat related words keeps us stuck in the stress response. Our Inner Dialogue plays a big part in this and is worth some attention. With the right skills we can help re-programme it as it is commonly rather harsh and judgmental, and usually towards ourselves, especially at times of great challenge when we need an ally, not a bully!

Accepting that we are dealing with more uncertainty and change than ever before and that this will at times be frightening, painful, frustrating and confusing is the first step towards finding the ways to feel more grounded and able to cope. This is a time to shift focus to the things we can have some control over, and not to dwell on the things that may concern us, but that we can’t do anything about. There are things we can have some, possibly minor, influence over which we can use some time and energy considering. But the main area to focus attention on, especially at this stressful time, is the circle of control - the daily things that you can do to help you manage the new demands and challenges of this situation.

Of course we fear the virus and its effect on health and on every aspect of our lives but this is exacerbated by conflict, anxiety, poor sleep and even the way we plan and spend our day which all can impair physical and emotional wellbeing - and these are areas we can control. Firstly, ensure you have some structure in each day - have a flexible daily timetable covering the basics such as meal times, exercise time, relaxation time etc and the following ideas may help with this. We feel less overwhelmed when we have structure, some order in the chaos, and it helps us to feel a sense of achievement if we complete even a few simple planned tasks.

We are all doing the best we can in at this time, in these difficult circumstances and that is all we can ever do: the best we can, at the time, in the circumstances. We can choose to continue to grow a little wiser, kinder, less judgemental and more knowledgeable as a result of this challenge - and in these days of almost unlimited access to information, ignorance is a choice! However if too much information feels overwhelming, just choosing ONE small thing to focus on will make a difference. Better to do one something, than lots of nothings!

This challenge is reminding us that we need each other, we are social beings who do best when we work together, and also that if we work with nature rather than against it, we increase our ability to thrive rather than just survive. These are really tough times and we will struggle, so now more than ever we need to be kind to ourselves and to be realistic about our limitations. Self-compassion will help us to adapt and we will realise just how adaptable and resourceful we are. Where there is love there is hope and I don’t think any of us can ever before have witnessed the great love, courage and heroism that we are seeing right now. It’s not only about the frontline teams, remember each and every small kind deed from every one of us makes a real difference.

“All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because of love. Everything is united by it alone. “ Leo Tolstoy


Dr Annie Campbell CPsychol, AFBPsS, PhD

Annie is a Chartered Psychologist and part of the VetLed team


Her particular interest is the interaction between the mind and the body and she has developed strategies that have helped people in many settings to enhance their confidence, achieve their potential and feel more comfortable in their own skin.