©University of Sydney
Article by Kells McPhillips, May 1, 2020
Find your “anchors of normality”
The word “normal” has become tinged with nostalgia these days and Dr. Soph says there’s a reason why. “Our life has been tipped upside down. Everything that’s happening around us is creating a sense of uncertainty, which is activating our survival response,” she says. “When the brain is in survival mode, and it’s panicking about what’s happening, it’s looking for anything it knows so that it can go: ‘Okay, maybe it’s not as bad as I thought.’”
Give your brain that reassurance by choosing three to four things you used to always do during a regular day or week (these are called your anchors of normality)—and make them a must. It could be as simple as making sure to always shower in the morning because that’s what you usually did before work, or making time to practice yoga like you did pre-COVID-19. (Just make sure that these habits are still appropriate for social distancing measures, to ensure you’re not putting yourself and others at risk.) Add them to your daily to-do list or set calendar reminders if you have to.
Identify your coping styles
There are three types of coping that people turn to during difficult times—problem-solving coping, emotional coping, and avoidance coping—and knowing your go-to style can help you suss out the tactics that are helping you versus the ones that are hurting you.
“If it’s problem-solving focused, that’s where we think we can actually make some kind of change [to the stressor],” says Dr. Soph. For example, if your recent credit card bill is way higher than expected, you may find comfort in writing up a new budget to accommodate it—you have control over that situation.
The second type of coping, emotional coping, is what you turn to when you can’t necessarily take action to change a situation but instead want to change your emotions. This can look like leaning on your support networks of friends and family to feel better, says Dr. Soph, or writing down gratitude affirmations, or just playing with your pets—all of which can help improve your mood and help you better deal with a situation.
Last is avoidance or bypassing, where you deal with a situation by creating habits like self-blame that don’t ultimately serve any purpose. Dr. Soph says to be on high alert for this style of coping, as it can be ineffective and potentially harmful.
“Your coping style is something that you develop depending on your childhood experiences,” Dr. Soph says. You can identify yours by monitoring the knee-jerk reactions you have when you feel out of sorts. If your first go-to on a stressful day is to go for a run or eat a cookie, you likely tend to gravitate towards emotional coping. If you’re all about writing a to-do list to help you prioritize when you’re struggling against multiple work deadlines, you’re probably more of a problem-solving coper. Knowing your patterns will help you create healthier ones (or at least find more tactics that truly work for you).
Make an “eco map” of your social resources
When things feel really tough, it can be hard to know who in your life you can depend on for support. That’s why Jack Saul, PhD, is a strong proponent of eco-mapping, or making like a cartographer and creating a visual representation of your support network. Nurses are often encouraged to use this technique to track those who care about their patients, but in your case, you can whip out colored pencils, paper, the works, and go about drawing a map of your connections.
Mine, for example, would feature a stick-person me floating in a pink bubble, connected to a bubble containing my boyfriend, then my extended family, work-family, and various other pals. When you feel like your mental health feels off-balance, you can reach for your artwork to see whose voice is going to spark the most joy in your life. And, on the opposite side of things, this will help you remember who might benefit from your support.
For more mental health ideas and a 30 day challenge, go to: