by Mary Reitano

This year is unlike any other, with worldwide changes caused by COVID-19 and the protests following George Floyd’s tragic death. So, how do we ride the emotional roller coaster that followed? Dr. Anthony Fauci talked about “flattening the curve” of COVID-19. We can “flatten the curve” of our personal roller coaster by mastering our feelings. But it takes intentional effort to maintain equilibrium. Here are some ideas.

Normalize it. In turbulent times, up-and-down emotions are common. You are not “losing it”—you are human. Don’t be anxious about feeling anxious. People naturally absorb surrounding moods—it’s called emotional contagion. But, with awareness, we can filter experiences and responses, whether input from others or our own self-talk. After lengthy stay-at-home orders and economic shutdowns, America has gradually reopened, one hopeful step at a time. But people have mixed feelings about this process. As a counselor, I encourage people to admit their feelings to effectively master them. 

Acknowledge Difficult Feelings. When this pandemic began we were shocked, stunned. Sleep and relaxation were difficult when feeling anxious. We felt confused by contradictory guidance. The high death toll brought grief and sadness. Recently, many felt outrage over the injustice of George Floyd’s death. For others, impatience and anger erupted over stay-at-home orders and unemployment. But vulnerable people feel cautious and, at times, isolated and lonely. People are irritable, partly due to our energy being depleted by constant change. Some worry about family who are front-line workers. 

How Can We Master Difficult Emotions? Find anchors in spiritual and emotional traditions. Reflect on what has not changed—love, family, friendship. Talk to supportive people–feelings are more manageable when shared. Find calming habits—sipping a favorite beverage, listening to the birds or music, games, crafts, or yardwork. Act to reduce problems, controlling what you can. Maintain routines, which are comfortable. Check “facts” with reliable sources to reduce anxiety. Minimize distress–don’t fixate on upsetting news you cannot control. 

Savor Positive Emotions. Relief upon hearing loved ones are safe. Appreciation towards frontline workers. Compassion expressed through donations and volunteering. Happiness in safely resuming some normal activities. Pleasure in doing things we missed—like just getting a haircut! Relief over the improved stock market. Gratitude expressed publicly for healthcare workers. Hope for a vaccine and effective medication to be developed quickly. 

How Can We Maximize Positive Feelings?  Experience joy when reconnecting with loved ones. Exercise to increase “feel good” endorphins. Volunteer and experience a similar “helper’s high.” Get outside–sunshine provides vitamin D, which lifts mood. Marvel at nature’s beauty, reflecting on the rhythms and longevity of God’s creation. Remember history to strengthen patience—”this too shall pass.” Search for good news online. Believe some good can come out of this terrible situation. Psychologists Tedeschi’s and Calhoun’s research supports “post-traumatic growth” including: (1) appreciation of life; (2) relationship with others; (3) new possibilities in life; (4) personal strength; and (5) spiritual change. This evidence of resilience gives hope that we can endure and thrive again.