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P is for Pandemic

Updated: Dec 12, 2020

During a session this week, a client and I were joking about the amount of acronyms used in therapy, especially in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, to help with remembering skills, such as interpersonal skills; DEAR MAN, GIVE, FAST, the list goes on and on. This client had an especially funny quip that there should be an acronym using the word pandemic. We had a good laugh and I realized, hey! Maybe there should be an acronym for skills to help us through this pandemic. I’ll be “that therapist”! So here we go!

Play. Sitting at home, focusing on keeping up with work, trying to find work, tasks around the home, the list goes on and on. During times of stress, especially chronic stress, it’s important that we find time to “play”. Humans need down time, we need to find time to build pleasure so we can experience emotions other than stress, anxiety, depression and so on. Trying to have fun can be difficult when our systems are used to feeling stressed. You can start slow. Try playing a game on your phone for a couple minutes. Build your way up to finding a new hobby or activity.

Accomplishment. This does not mean focus on accomplishing several tasks just because you are stuck at home. Instead, name the things you are accomplishing each day, no matter how “big” or “small”. Allow yourself to reflect on daily tasks and give yourself credit. “Good job keeping up with dishes”, “Way to go cooking a homemade meal!”. Again, during times of chronic stress it can be easy to let the “little things” fall to the wayside.


Negotiate. This can be a key element of setting boundaries. You may notice that other people in your life have different boundaries around the pandemic. If you feel uncomfortable with a request they have made, try negotiating to keep the relationship intact. As the holidays approach, you may be invited to several different events. Allow yourself to mindfully choose what you feel comfortable participating in. If you feel pressured to participate in person, you can negotiate by suggesting a socially distanced meet up outside or a video chat. This way you are still spending quality time with others while staying safe.


Dialectic. Everyone’s favorite DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) reframe! The dialectic is when two seemingly opposite sides of something are both true. For example, we can be grieving the events and memories we were looking forward to but because of the pandemic, look completely different. At the same time, we can be grateful for extra time at home with our family or appreciate the change of pace in life with events being cancelled. It’s okay to feel “opposite” emotions. Allow yourself to feel both sides by processing them with a friend or writing in a journal.


Empathy. This is a big one right now. Finding space to feel empathy for ourselves and others during a chronically stressful time can be key to maintaining relationships, reducing conflict and caring for ourselves. Try to remind yourself that everyone is just doing the best they can right now. We are all struggling through this and need each other more than ever. The person that cut you off in traffic may be rushing home from a 12 hour shift to see their family. Go easy on yourself if you forgot a task, you may have been anxious at the time and had limited frontal lobe functioning for memory recall.

Mindfulness. During times of chronic exposure to stress, it can be easy to turn to dissociation, rumination on fear thoughts, or numbing out. Working to stay in the present moment allows us to take care of our needs and support others. Try scheduling 1 minute of deep breathing a day or try a yoga class to learn new mindfulness techniques. Making time to check-in can reduce the likelihood of long-term mental health concerns.


Imagery. Sick of being stuck at home? Try using a mindful imagery exercise to mindfully escape your surroundings. Picture a beach in Hawaii, laying in a hammock or kayaking in a calm bay. Allow yourself to take in the scenery. This allows you a break from the “stuck” feeling if only for a moment.


Cope ahead. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, folks! This pandemic is temporary. In the meantime, we can realistically expect there to be some stressful times. When you have moments of decreased anxiety or depression, use the time to plan for coping skills when your misery is higher and it can be harder to problem solve. Make a list of safe people to check in with, order self-care products to have ready, create a sleep hygiene routine and so on.


Wahoo! We made a new acronym to use in therapy! Jokes aside, we can get through this together. Please remember that you are worth supporting and you deserve support. Stay well, friends!


#pandemic #play #stress #anxiety #depression #accomplishment #negotiate #boundaries #dialect #grieving #grateful #emotions #empathy #mindfulness #dissociation #rumination #fear #numbing #support #deepbreathing #breathing #yoga #mentalhealth #imagery #cope #self-care #therapy



Written by: Mackenzie Kerber, MA, LPCC


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