The current COVID-19 pandemic is a global challenge unseen since the Spanish flu of 1918, historical in every sense of the word. It is forcing dramatic changes both on an international level and also in our personal lives, and most of us do not like change. In just a few weeks, our realities have been altered. From being forced to take or teach online courses, facing unemployment or underemployment, not seeing classmates or students, lacking access to our favorite restaurant or gym, canceling of anticipated trip and events, attending “virtual” church services, and caring full time for children who are usually in school or daycare, to struggling to buy toilet paper, flour, dried beans, mac-n-cheese, and other grocery staples, Covid-19 has royally messed up our daily routines!

All of this change brings about stress, adding to other stressors we had before all of this started. (No need to list those; you’re well aware of what they are.)

Normal Reactions

As with any unexpected change, people can experience many different reactions: feeling numb, overwhelmed, sad, angry, bored, frustrated, or even denial. Some may feel a bit of excitement toward the drama that is unfolding before us. Others can be distracted by being task-focused in preparing for the COVID-19 tsunami headed our way. You may feel like it is all surreal, unreal, just numb. Regardless of your reaction, it’s yours and normal, but two things are universal. First, you’ll experience or express some kind of reaction either now or later, when it’s all done. Second, reactions are cumulative, and once they reach a critical mass, in a manner of speaking, they will come out one way or another. So it’s best to have a toolbox of coping skills.

Coping: Use What’s Worked and Try Something New

Most likely you have coped with some challenging issues before; what worked then will likely work now. But maybe you need some new approaches? Google “100 ways to cope,” a search that will return a plethora of possibilities. Rather than pontificate too much, let me offer a few notable techniques for you to try out and perhaps add to your COVID-19 coping toolbox. But first, a disclaimer: I am not advocating that this selection is any better than anything else. I am just throwing out options I have found helpful. The key is to find what works for you.

            •           Watch something funny on YouTube

            •           Read

            •           Avoid the news

            •           Turn off phone notifications

            •           Go for a walk

            •           Pet your cat/dog

            •           Make your bed each day

            •           Make your child’s bed each day

            •           Avoid too much alcohol

            •           Pray

            •           Call a friend

            •           Call your parent or grandparent

            •           Text a funny meme

            •           Sit outside and just listen

            •           Watch the sun rise or set

            •           Journal your thoughts

            •           Color

            •           Do some kind of physical activity

            •           Exercise

            •           Watch an episode of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”

            •           Go flying (that’s my strategy)

            •           Listen to quiet music

            •           Play a board game

            •           Facebook message a friend

            •           Breath deeply a few times

            •           Light a candle

            •           Do something nice for someone

            •           Avoid the news (Notice I am repeating this one.)

            •           Watch a favorite movie (For me it’s “Lawrence of Arabia.”)

            •           Go for a walk

            •           Wash your car

            •           Send someone a card

            •           List what you’re grateful for

            •           Nap

            •           Do as many pushups and sit-ups as you can

            •           Meditate for five minutes

            •           Slowly drink a cold glass of water

Big Three

There are three things I’ve noticed among veterans, patients, and myself that seem universal in coping with an event of this magnitude: acceptance, routine, rest. First, accept your reaction and that of those around you. Don’t judge; it is what it is. Just acknowledge and accept it, good, bad, or indifferent.

We’re all coping the best as we can, and it’s good enough for now. Second, maintain some kind of daily routine, whatever that may be. It only takes a few days to adjust and establish a new routine. During the time I served in Iraq, our routines were constantly altered, but most would adapt and move forward with adjustments. I repeat: adapt and move forward.

Lastly, get adequate sleep and rest. The average adult needs eight to 10 hours of sleep, without which we can become cognitively and emotionally impaired. Researchers have found that with four hours of sleep, we function as if we’re intoxicated. Studies actually assigned folks to sleep deprivation or drinking alcohol. Again, in combat, when a soldier would succumb to “combat fatigue,” the magic cure was “three hots and a cot,” which meant regular meals and sleep.

Early in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the U.S. Air Force had problems with bomber crews experiencing “microsleep episodes” during critical phases of flight. In other words, they were falling asleep while landing! The quick solution was brief naps — not the two-hour version, but the 15-minute kind. Oops, I’ve gone in professor mode. In short, routine is important for quality sleep. Avoid alcohol and big meals and layoff the smart devices one hour before bed. Google “sleep hygiene” for more suggestions.   

Again, remember this is a historic time we’re in. Use the coping method that works best for you, maybe try something new, accept your response (good or bad), keep a routine, and get some sleep!


Dr. Vaughn DeCoster is a professor and director of the Social Work Program at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith. He has been a clinical social worker for nearly 30 years, practicing in medical and behavioral settings with adults, couples, and families. He commanded a combat stress team in Iraq during the surge and worked with veterans at the VA for several years. He grew up east of Lavaca on a poultry farm and now lives in Greenwood with his spouse, also a social worker, and their two sons.


Dr. Vaughn DeCoster
Date Posted: 
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
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