During a pandemic, when nerves are frayed and anxiety levels are soaring, it’s more important than ever for healthcare professionals to steer the course and stay strong for their patients.

So how do psychologists cope when they’re worried about the same things their patients are?

Marni Amsellem, PhD, a licensed psychologist in Connecticut and New York, says this is one of the biggest things her colleagues are discussing as they move their practices online and manage a new normal.

“There are two big threads going on,” she says. “We’re all talking about self-care and how to process this both for ourselves and for our patients.”

The fact that therapists right now are experiencing the same worries as their patients has informed Amsellem’s online therapy sessions as well as inspired her to share her thoughts via her blog where she hopes she can help even more people outside her own patient population.

In her blog, she writes about how important it has been for her to ‘activate.’

“I activate. I think about what I can do to get a handle on the situation and how to cope with what is ensuing. Seemingly, each time we refresh our news feed, there’s a new set of restrictions in place, or there’s a troubling update somewhere in the world. It’s a lot. For ALL of us,” she writes.

This ‘we’re all in it together,’ mentality is crucial right now, says Stephanie J. Wong, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist in San Francisco.

“I make sure I provide the client the space to discuss his or her concerns about the pandemic, validate them, and note that these are challenging times for all of us,” Wong says. “Also, carefully timed humor helps ‘break the ice’ so asking ‘are you surviving the apocalypse?’ during a session tends to lead clients to discuss how they’re functioning and share their fears.”

Here, six things these two psychologists are doing for themselves and what they want you to try to do now:

  1. Take breaks. “I’ve been invited to four different quarantine related online groups, but I also need to monitor my own time in there,” Amsellem says. “There’s so much rampant anxiety and I am helping people grapple with this day in and day out but even healthcare providers need to limit our own exposure to it.”
  2. Limit social media. “If you’re feeling extremely anxious, minimize the time you spend browsing social media,” Wong says. “And don’t look at every post that’s focused on the pandemic.”
  3. Journal if it helps. “Everyday I’ve been posting three to four tips on my social media feeds,” Amsellem says. “I also started a journaling community called WriteReflectGrow. This helps me as well as the people I’m interacting with online.”
  4. See this time as an opportunity for something positive. “Since many of you are now staying at home, pick up a hobby you once enjoyed,” Wong says. “Take that online class you’ve always wanted to take. Or, just watch movies and play board games with your family.”
  5. Take control. “Once you realize that there are things you can do, like hand washing and paying attention to the latest facts versus the hype, you will feel much better,” Amsellem says. “Reaching out to someone in need who might need your help or calling a friend who might be feeling anxious are all actions you can take to help feel like you have a mastery over what’s happening right now.”
  6. Keep an eye on your anxiety. “Anxiety is a survival mechanism and it’s what has kept our species in existence for as long as it has, Amsellem says. “There are functional levels of anxiety which the vast majority of us operate in and then there are extreme levels. However, if your anxiety is interfering with your daily functioning, that’s when you need to speak to a licensed professional.”
Last Updated: Mar 27, 2020