In Tri Delta’s new series, “3 For You,” we’re covering the best tips from experts as we navigate our new circumstances during COVID-19. Tri Delta alumna and licensed psychologist Dr. Sarah Burgamy, Dartmouth, shares practical insight to make sense of what’s going on around us and provides ways to cope. Read her three tips below, or listen to the podcast.
Mental health has been a focus of many during COVID-19. As we head into May, which is Mental Health Month, we’ve asked some of our sisters in the mental health profession to share their perspective. One of these sisters is licensed psychologist Dr. Sarah Burgamy who provides three tips on ways to cope with our current situation.
Tip #1 Acknowledge that this is NOT normal
A lot of people may refer to our current situation as a “new normal.” But this is not normal. A “new normal,” is when we know that something is going to be a certain way and that we’re going to need to accept and adjust, but this is not that time. This is temporary. At some point we will get to our “new normal,” but this is not it. We have a hard time with this because the situation is really unusual, unfamiliar, and we don’t know how temporary. Our brain likes to relate new things to old things we’ve experienced before, but how can it do that now when we’ve never experienced anything like this? When considering your current situation, think of another major life event that’s happened to you and how you think of that event now—you hold that event in your memory. Some day—hopefully soon—we’ll be able to look back on this in a similar way and say, “Wow. That was really weird.”
Tip #2 Recognize Incomplete Loss
We can all collectively acknowledge that we’re feeling loss and grief, but it feels unfamiliar in many cases. We all have some sort of experience with grief or what it means to lose something and to go through what we call stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. But these stages aren’t linear. We can move back and forth, up and down, cycle back through, and that can go on for a very long time. That acceptance piece usually has to do with knowing that something is a certain way. A lot of the losses we’re experiencing now are incomplete losses. We have an altered sense of our day-to-day lives. Seniors in high school and college are not having their graduations. Collegiate athletes are not having their spring season. Some of these losses are ones that people will grieve and accept. Some of them we’re not sure if they’re really losses, but they certainly feel like losses right now.
Tip #3 Have a “Mr. Rogers” Routine
There are some practical things you can do that can help anchor you in something that feels more normal in the midst of this change and loss. One of those things is having a Mr. Rogers routine. Imagine the routine Fred Rogers would do on “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” He would come into the house, take off his work shoes and put on his tennis shoes, take off his jacket and put on his sweater. While we’re going through something that has all of our bearings upended, we should literally change. Do your own Mr. Rogers. Put on your work clothes for the day when you’re ready to work, and change into your comfy clothes when we’re done working. Our brains recognize patterns, especially behavioral patterns. It also relates things; it’s an associative organ. It has scripts for normal. In the morning putting on something different than what you slept in will help break up the day, and your psyche will better understand what’s happening because it’s doing something familiar.
Want more? Watch this video, or find more helpful 3 For You topics.